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Derry baseball moves on under interim coach

| Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In time, baseball coach John Flickinger hopes to have the interim tag lifted from his title at Derry.

Until then, he'll act as though it's already been done.

Flickinger, the Trojans' longtime assistant coach, has been named interim coach of the team, replacing Bob Slezak, whose contract was not renewed this year.

"It's an unfortunate situation, what happened to Bob," said Flickinger, a Derry graduate and former two-time NCAA Division II All-American catcher at Indiana (Pa.). "It was bad timing. Fortunately, the kids didn't lose much. We're not hiring a whole new staff."

Because of mounting pressure from parents and a mass defection of players supposedly dissatisfied with Slezak's no-nonsense approach, it is perhaps a controversial move and one that came just as formal workouts were set to begin this month.

Flickinger, nonetheless, hopes he can get through his first year without any distractions.

"It's tough to be named to this position under these terms," said Flickinger. "Bob and I had a coaching relationship for 13 seasons. I've known him for a long time. I appreciate the opportunity he gave me early on. He trusted me to coach the kids immediately. He gave me the reigns to be the third-base coach and run practices."

Flickinger now becomes the head man, albeit on an interim basis. He said he is hoping to be named permanent coach once the opening's formal posting expires.

"Ultimately, this was my choice when the administration approached me," he said. "I wasn't going to let them down, because they asked me if I wanted to step up. I've always had an intensity and passion to coach the game. It never mattered to me to have a title."

The other guy

Slezak leaves with an overall record of 134-156. His teams made seven WPIAL playoff appearances in 16 years, but none since 2007-08.

"I wish nothing but the best for the Derry baseball program," Slezak said. "I have made great relationships with many players who continue to come to my house and talk about the great times of the past. To me, that says it all."

Derry last won a section championship in 1992 when Flickinger was the team's catcher and prior to Slezak's arrival. The Trojans' best season was in 1984, when they won their only WPIAL championship by beating North Allegheny in the title game to advance to the PIAA playoffs.

Flickinger acknowledged that the team's roster has been restocked since he took over the program. He said 28 players came out for the team, including six returning full-time starters and five others who saw considerable playing time last year.

Among them are sophomore shortstop Luke Ridilla, who batted .300 and produced three game-winning, walk-off hits last season; senior pitcher/catcher Frank Wolford, who was 3-2 with a 1.85 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 34 innings; and pitcher Rob Hebenthal, who was 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 18 innings.

"These kids will get every inch of my intensity and passion," Flickinger said. "It is a game that has always brought that out in me. You take pride in it. I don't know how many games we'll win, but I know it will be a well-coached and a hard-working baseball team."

Derry, which competes in Section 2-AAA of the WPIAL, opens the season March 23 against Class AAAA Latrobe at Grandview Field.

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