Bethel Park's pitching rotation finding success with southpaws
When an opposing coach told Bethel Park's Tony Fisher to expect a left-handed pitcher that day, Fisher responded that he too would be using a lefty.
But that was no surprise.
“That's all I've got, so you know what's coming at you,” said Fisher, who has a four-pitcher starting rotation that's entirely left-handed, which is unusual in high school baseball.
So far, the unorthodox lineup has shown promise. Senior starters Tyler Grashoff (1-1), Logan Corrigan (3-0), Luc Cox (3-0) and sophomore Corey Augenstein (1-1) have Bethel Park squarely among the WPIAL contenders.
“I think it's an advantage,” said Fisher, a long-time assistant in his third season as head coach. “We've never had a rotation with that many lefties.”
But their entire section has been leaning left this season, with the South Hills full of southpaws. Section 5-leading Mt. Lebanon has left-handed sophomores Austin Kitchen and Robert Klimchock among its top three starters, and Peters Township has a staff led by senior lefty Chris Wastchak.
“With the exception of our section this year, most high school kids just don't see a lot of quality lefties,” said Upper St. Clair coach Jerry Malarkey, who has senior lefty Tim Leckenby leading his pitching staff. “But more than just the number of lefties, the key is the number of quality lefties in the section. They're all good pitchers. Any team would be happy to have any one, let alone have a couple on one team, and seven or eight in one section.”
The left-handed rotation helped Bethel Park (9-2, 2-2) climb to No. 1 in the Class AAAA rankings, but losses last week to Mt. Lebanon, 5-3, and Peters Township, 5-2, shuffled the section standings. That movement has been typical of Quad-A this season, where no team remains undefeated.
“It's pretty balanced this year,” Fisher said. “I don't think there's anybody who's going to run away with it. It's a coin flip at this point.”
Pitching will allow Bethel Park to contend, as long as its defense stands strong. Its starters were solid in both losses but mistakes were costly — especially five fielding errors against Mt. Lebanon. The errors were disappointing for a team that has senior starters at seven of eight fielding positions. It reminded them of the four errors made in last year's quarterfinal loss in the WPIAL playoffs.
But Bethel Park's coaches had a message: We'd rather play our worst baseball on April 14 rather than May 16 like we did last year. So, their next practice emphasized defense, with his players fielding grounders with bare hands. That led to a 17-4 victory Monday over Canon-McMillan.
“Baseball is an evil game,” Fisher said. “You make one mistake, and it can cost you. ... Sometimes you have to go through some trials and tribulations in order to move forward, and I think we did that.”
Bethel Park has been building toward this season. Corrigan, a first baseman, and shortstop Dakota Forsyth are each four-year starters. Right fielder Jake McCall, left fielder Ryan Kogler, center fielder Corey Lazor and third baseman David Lemley are all two- or three-year starters.
Senior designated hitter Ryan Dodson, a first-year starter, leads with a .432 average, two home runs and 10 RBI. Corrigan, a James Madison recruit, has a .424 average and two home runs. As a team, the lineup struck out just three times in three games.
Pitching and defense will be key, Fisher said. With typically only three games per week, one of the four left-handers will work as a reliever; Cox started against Canon-McMillan and Corrigan closed. Fisher uses all four, trying to match a pitcher's style against each opponent.
“We'll see how it goes the second time through (the section),” Fisher said, “when everybody is throwing lefties at each other.”