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TJ has high hopes for baseball season

| Friday, March 26, 2010

Rich Krivanek has yet to enter a high school baseball season without having the utmost confidence in his team.

As the head coach at Pittsburgh Central Catholic from 2006 through 2008, Krivanek cemented himself as one of Western Pennsylvania's finest young baseball minds, leading the Vikings to an 81-26-1 record overall and a section title in his final season.

Considering the talent Krivanek had to deal with at Central Catholic, confidence was quite easy to come by for the 31-year-old former Daily News League mainstay.

Despite accruing an 8-10 overall record and 5-9 mark in Section 4-AAA in his first season leading the Thomas Jefferson baseball team last spring, those same old feelings are returning to Krivanek on the eve of his second campaign coaching the Jaguars in 2010.

"I'm usually confident every year," Krivanek said Thursday. "I was confident last year and it didn't turn out how we wanted. I think I said this last year, but these kids are great kids here at TJ. They work hard. I couldn't ask for them to do anything more than they are doing this year. All that's left is to play the games and see how it happens."

With the kind of top-end talent the Jaguars boast in their pitching rotation, Saturday's non-section home opener against Steel Valley at noon can't come fast enough for Krivanek and his players.

Hard-throwing sophomore right-hander Greg Schneider announced his presence as one of the WPIAL's best young talents last year after throwing a no-hitter in an important late-season victory over South Park.

He will be joined at the top of the TJ starting rotation by senior team captain Frank Szubra, a right-handed workhorse who also is capable of handling some serious innings.

"I don't like to call either one of them an ace," Krivanek said. "I'd say it's more like 1-A and 1-B, take your pick. It's nice. Having those two at the top of the rotation alone should be able to help us win some games."

The TJ pitching staff's biggest strength, however, is its depth.

The Jaguars will boast as many as 10 players capable of making starts and pitching in relief. Seniors Ed Hasis and Brian Schmidt and junior Matt Warhola lead TJ's lengthy group of hurlers, while Matt Zaken, Corey Seropian, Joe Shaffer, Ryan Ruffing and Rocky Marcheleta all will log meaningful innings on the mound this season.

"I plan on using all of them at some point, especially with the weather being like this," Krivanek said. "One of the things we preach here with our staff is, pitching and defense win games and championships. We've got the arms. We've got some kids who have been working really hard here."

Many of those same arms will provide Krivanek with championship-caliber defense in the field when not pitching.

After earning considerable playing time at shortstop last spring, Marcheleta enters his sophomore season as one of the Jaguars' best young defensive players. With Szubra and Ruffing at second base, TJ will feature a solid double-play combination.

Warhola and Shaffer will split time at first base, while Bruno Natter and Seropian have been fighting for the starting job at third base.

Freshmen catchers Pat Hall and Tyler Toboz have been providing healthy competition to replace former standout backstop Tyler Wehner, now playing football at West Virginia Wesleyan.

"The whole team is in pretty good shape," Krivanek said. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say that we are going to be one of the most well-conditioned teams in Triple-A."

TJ also will be led by an experienced set of veteran players in the outfield.

When not pitching Schneider will start in center field, while slugger Rob Nahay will cement the middle of the Jaguars batting order and patrol left field. Hasis mostly will play right field, while Mike Terpin will add plenty of depth with the ability to play all three outfield positions.

"The experience that they all have coming back is just tremendous in the outfield," Krivanek said. "They've got great speed."

TJ opens Section 4-AAA play on April 7 at Belle Vernon Area. The Jaguars have qualified for the playoffs only once since 2000. In 2007, the Jaguars were knocked out in the first round by Chartiers Valley.

The main goal for TJ this season will be to reverse its recent postseason history.

"Everybody wants to get in one of those top three spots for the playoffs, win a section title," Krivanek said. "That's our goal, just like the other seven teams in our section."

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