East Marietta led 3-1 with two outs in the seventh inning, and Pisciotta had a 1-2 count on the batter. Pisciotta got the batter to hit a harmless grounder to second baseman Joe Hutchinson for the final out, and the Little League title came home to Cobb County.
“I’ll never forget how that last ball went to me,” said Hutchinson, now 42. “I made the final out.”
He also made history as a member of Georgia’s first Little League World Series championship team, which celebrates its 30-year anniversary this season. East Marietta went 14-0 in its run to the title, capturing district, state and region titles en route to the World Series crown.
Hutchinson has fond memories of the event.
“I have a lot of great memories about that season,” said the Marietta resident and vice president of apparel management with the Collegiate Licensing Co. “It was a special time. We appreciate those things more and more the older we get.
“Then, I was just 12 years old and playing baseball. I didn’t realize the magnitude of what happened. Looking back, it was a blessing and an honor to be able to accomplish what we accomplished.”
David Gernatt, 42, was also a member of the team. A pitcher, he struck out 10 batters in East Marietta’s 9-8 victory over Stamford, Conn., in the U.S. championship game of the World Series. He then played right field against the Dominican Republic.
Now a division president for David Weekley Homes, Gernatt still lives in Marietta.
“It was a surreal season,” he said, echoing Hutchinson’s thoughts.
“I don’t think we understood. We were just playing baseball and having fun. Looking back, we realized it was something special.
“Nobody can prepare you for Williamsport. There are people interviewing you and people asking for you to autograph their programs. It’s a pretty amazing place for a 12-year-old.”
Pisciotta, who anchored the pitching staff as a 6-foot, 2-inch 12-year-old, threw a no-hitter in the team’s first state playoff game. Gernatt then threw a one-hitter in the second contest and Pisciotta pitched another no-hitter in the third game.
East Marietta outscored its first three state opponents 18-1 and logged two shutouts in the Southern regional tournament.
“We had a good mix of sluggers and some very good pitchers,” Gernatt said. “We were fundamentally sound and played good defense. We had all the right ingredients to be a good team.”
Other members of the team included Johnny Adkins, Kenny Carlson, Jeff Estes, Tommy Gilbert, Keith Grunewald, Mike Langley, Nelson Locklear, Adam Olmstead, Brian Pear, Eric Smith and John Ubertino.
Life after Little League
Several members from the East Marietta team became athletes in college, in such sports as football, baseball, tennis and basketball.
After graduating from Walton High School, Pisciotta went on to have a successful career at Georgia Tech, and was drafted in the 19th round of the 1991 Major League Baseball draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his Major League debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1997 as a relief pitcher and spent three years in the majors with the Cubs and Kansas City Royals.
After retiring from baseball in 2000, Pisciotta founded Quick Delivery Office Supply, which he continues to own in Kennesaw.
Grunewald, who spent five seasons in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system after playing at Walton and North Carolina, became the senior vice president of baseball operations at CSE.
As a player agent, he’s represented former Atlanta Braves John Smoltz and Mark DeRosa, as well as Adam Everett, a Harrison High School standout who went on to spend parts of 11 seasons in the majors.
Richard Hilton, who managed East Marietta to the championship, died in December.
Dickie Thomas served as the team’s coach.
“Hilton got you to believe you could do more than you believed you could,” Gernatt said.
It was that belief that helped East Marietta get through the single-elimination Little League tournament.
“There have been updates to the stadium and tournament since we played,” Hutchinson said. “It’s 16 teams now, and we had eight. We had three single-elimination games and it’s double-elimination now. They’ve redone a lot of things.”
Gernatt had an opportunity to see some of the changes when he and Hilton traveled back to Williamsport several years ago to take part in ESPN’s “Titletown USA” series.
“I hadn’t been back to Williamsport since we won the Little League World Series,” Gernatt said. “It was like I was reliving it with him.”
Hutchinson, an Alabama football fan, returned to Williamsport two years ago when the Crimson Tide faced Penn State in State College, Pa.
“I was there with my family for the game,” Hutchinson said.
“Williamsport was about 60 miles from Penn State,” he said. “I took my daughter, who was 9 years old at the time, and we stayed overnight and spent some time there. That was my first time back in about 20 years.”
Life lessons learned on the field
Both players gained valuable life experiences during their time playing youth baseball.
“You learn about teamwork, hard work and never giving up,” Hutchinson said. “I learned about having character and integrity from coach Hilton. He taught us about doing things the right way and respecting our parents.”
Added Gernatt: “Having that kind of success at an early age gave me the confidence to take risks in life and to stick my neck out.”
The Little League World Series championship was also a special moment for David Gernatt’s older sister, Theresa. A rising high school freshman at the time, Theresa Gernatt had just won a recreation league softball state championship with her Terrell Mill team. Another sister, Patti, had also won a state title with Terrell Mill in her age group.
Theresa Gernatt’s Wheeler softball team went on to win a state championship a few months later.
“That was four state titles in three months for my family before our dad passed away,” said Theresa Gernatt, the former girls basketball coach at Mount Paran Christian School. “It was all like a whirlwind. Our family went to Williamsport to support David and the team.
“I realized this was big-time because Keith Jackson was calling the game,” Gernatt added, referring to the longtime commentator for ABC Sports, most notably for college football. “I knew I was watching history being made because he was involved. It was super cool and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for David and our family.”
A time to reminisce
Hutchinson and David Gernatt say they will still watch the Little League World Series from time to time. It gives them an opportunity to reminisce.
“It doesn’t feel like 30 years,” Hutchinson said. “But every time you think back, there’s an appreciation and thankfulness to have been a part of that team and accomplished that.
“Hopefully, another Marietta team could win it again one day. To look back and think that we were the first Georgia team to do it makes me proud. I’m proud of the other Georgia teams, too. East Marietta’s success in the 1980s helped grow baseball in east Cobb, and it’s nice to know we had a part in establishing the success people see every year with teams out of the East Cobb Baseball complex.”
It wasn’t until 23 years after East Marietta’s win that another Georgia team clinched the Little League championship, with Columbus in 2006, and Warner Robins the following year.
With this year’s World Series wrapping up this afternoon, Gernatt wished he and his East Marietta teammates could come together one more time to celebrate their achievement from 30 years ago.
“It would be neat if we could get something together at a park or something for the anniversary,” he said. “I’ll definitely watch the championship game. It takes me down memory lane every time.”