The 1973 Connellsville baseball team captured the program’s first WPIAL championship and was the bedrock of a baseball program that would turn into one of the best in western Pennsylvania.
The Falcons posted a record of 23-1 under Coach Tom Sankovich.
“We had only had baseball at Connellsville High School for three years,” Sankovich said. “This team was an outstanding group of athletes and young men. They’re one of the best teams that ever played at Connellsville in my history there. They were my first WPIAL champions, and they were one of the best. I was 43 years younger, it was a good time.”
“Sank was just learning baseball,” Falcons first baseman Barry Craig offered. “He was a football coach and it was only the third year of the high school baseball program. We opened the new high school in 1970 and that was my sophomore year. That was the first year of baseball and they needed a baseball coach in 1971, and it was Sank, but his love was football. The second year, my junior year, we did better and then the third year, my senior year, Sank and Mike Bell his assistant they were really getting into it and Sank was learning the game well.”
“At that time Connellsville had such great tradition, the Little League, Doctor Colvin had even built a field for the Little League and I came from Normalville, so I actually played in the Mill Run Little League. Every kid that wanted to play baseball back then did, and there were so many volunteers and so many parents and coaches that just made it such a special thing growing up.”
“We always had a lot of good baseball players in this area and I think from the get-go our team was pretty competitive,” Former Falcons catcher Rich Husband said. “We were very competitive right off the bat and Coach Sankovich was very organized and had everything pretty well focused on what we needed to do to get better.”
Sankovich credits a great feeder system for his success at Connellsville.
“They had a great Little League in Connellsville,” he said. “You had Dr. Colvin and George Pastors who has passed away and some other people who had no kids and they were in it for the love of the sport and to work with the kids and they really developed those kids in little league and up into the Pony Leagues and I was kind of getting a finished Connellsville breezed to the Section 10 title, the lone loss in 1973 was to Latrobe 3-2.
“It was a pretty good year for us,” Husband said. “We would have liked to have gone further, but it wasn’t an option at that point because the WPIAL championship was it, they didn’t play for a PIAA title.”
Connellsville defeated Monessen 3-2, Penn Hills 11-2 and Shannock Valley 3-1 in the WPIAL playoffs to punch their ticket to the WPIAL championship match up with Shaler. Shaler came into that game with a record of 18-3.
“I think the whole year our pitchers were just very stingy with runs,” Husband stated. “They did a terrific job that year, our pitching was phenomenal. We had pretty good defense and timely hitting and we got a few breaks here and there that really helped us along the way.”
The championship was a nail-biter as the Falcons trailed Shaler 2-1 in the final frame when outfielder Bob Mongelluzzo slammed a two-run homer to lift Connellsville to a thrilling 3-2 victory.
“Mongelluzzo hit the shot heard round the world,” Craig stated. “It was a big hit to give us the win.”
“It was a special year for a lot of us because it was our senior year,” Husband said. “It was a dream year for us and we have a lot of special memories.”
Steve Kooser was a sophomore on the 1973 team. He recalled the tremendous support of the Connellsville fans during the championship season.
“I couldn’t believe how much support we received from the community during the season and playoffs,” Kooser said. “There were busloads of people who came to every game, and it seemed like all of Connellsville was at the championship game. When we got back, there was a parade and several parties and celebrations. It was great to see that support.”
1973 was the first championship for the Connellsville baseball squad. Under the leadership of Sankovich the Falcons went on to earn 10 section championships, four WPIAL titles and a 1989 state championship.
“We had so much talent and ability,” Sankovich said. “That’s why we won so many games. I didn’t win those games, the kids did. At Connellsville, I was fortunate that all the good athletes played baseball. Some of them played other sports as well, but they all played baseball.”