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Jeannette grad Weightman growing into role at St. Bonaventure

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Brian Weightman, a Jeannette graduate, is in his junior year with the Bonnies.
Brian Weightman, a Jeannette graduate, is in his junior year with the Bonnies.

Since his first day as a member of the St. Bonaventure University baseball team, Brian Weightman has been turning heads during batting practice.

The Jeannette High School graduate is a superb athlete, and his 6-foor-4, 220-pound frame generates lightning-fast bat speed. During his batting practice sessions, Weightman regularly puts on a show, slamming towering homer runs and smoking fierce line drives.

The problem has been after batting practice when the games start and pitchers are no longer throwing straight pitches down the heart of the plate.

Weightman, now a junior outfielder, has always been able to handle fastballs, but, as St. Bonaventure head coach Larry Sudbrook explained, he struggled hitting the off-speed pitches and breaking balls of NCAA Division I pitchers.

Now, early in his junior season, it looks like that may be changing. Through 16 games, Weightman has a .267 batting average, collecting four hits, primarily as the team's “fourth outfielder.”

Beyond the stats, though, is the progress that a trained eye is seeing. After two-plus years of almost year-round baseball, Weightman is adjusting to various types of pitches.

“He's been working at it, and we've definitely seen an improvement,” said Sudbrook.

Weightman has also seen the improvement himself.

“It was a really big adjustment,” he said of the transition from high school baseball to major college baseball. “I'm adjusting to the speed of the game.

“In high school, people throw mostly fast balls and there aren't a lot of guys who throw a lot of good breaking balls. But I've really been working and focusing on just baseball.”

That has been a big key, said Sudbrook.

Because of his athletic prowess, Weightman played multiple sports throughout his days as a Jayhawk. That meant focusing on baseball just a few months per year. At the Division I level, though, many of the players focused on baseball year-round.

So when he entered the program, he had the physical tools of a big time player but not the baseball experience and fine-tuned skills. To make up for lost time, Weightman has been playing on summer league teams, racking up at-bats against quality pitchers, something he'll do again after this collegiate season.

When his seasoning caches up with his raw ability, Weightman may be turning more heads with those towering shots during actual games more often.

“He's got all the physical tools, now he's working on becoming a better baseball player,” said Sudbrook. “He's got a ways to go to become a star on the team, but there's no reason to think he won't be able to do it.”

The coach explained that he's using Weightman as his “ninth or tenth bat.” He starts “one out of every three or four games” in the outfield and is also being used as a pinch hitter and pinch runner.

Weightman, who did not see much playing time his first two seasons, is embracing the role.

“I'm glad to help the team in any way I can,” he said. “Whenever I get the chance, I have to try to make the most of them.”

Like any competitor, he does hope to earn a full-time starting job as soon as he can.

“That's definitely a goal,” he said. “That's what I'm trying to work for in practice. If I keep working, hopefully something will happen when the time is right.”

Sudbrook is excited about the big-time potential in Weightman.

“You can't teach someone to run like that,” said Sudbrook. “You can't teach someone bat speed. It's really just a matter of him getting comfortable at the plate. I certainly believe he can become an everyday player.

“He also a class kid, a good student. He's good in the weight room. He has none of those negatives that would prevent him from doing it.”

Right now, Weightman's focus is on helping the current St. Bonaventure team, which entered the week with a 5-11 record. Weightman said the talent is there for the Bonnies to compete in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Specifically, they have a goal of finishing among the top seven in the regular season, which would get them a spot in the post-season A-10 tournament.

“That's what we're going for,” said Weightman. “If we don't make it to the tournament, it will be a disappointment. And we feel like, once we make it there, we can do some damage.”

Lago's season ends

Jeannette area native Matt Lago's impressive run into the wrestling post-season ended earlier this month at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association's national championship tournament.

Lago, a Penn-Trafford graduate and sophomore on the Penn State Greater Allegheny team, wrestled in the 149-pound weight class at the event, where the top grapplers from non-NCAA colleges competed.

Lago received a bye in the first round, then wrestled William Hodges of Texas State, losing by fall in 3:49. Lago then moved into the consolation bracket, received another bye, but fell to Matt Shimmer of the State University of New York to end his season. He finished with a 20-16 record.

While he's just a sophomore, this will likely be Lago's last run at NCWA nationals. The actuary science major is due to transfer to main campus either in time for the fall or, at the latest, next spring. That means he has, at most, just one more partial season at the Greater Allegheny program, if any time at all.

When he does transfer to main campus — which boasts the NCAA Division I Nittany Lions — Lago may wrestle on the school's club team, but he has yet to decide for sure.

“I'm not sure (if I'll wrestle at Penn State), but it's great being a part of this program,” he said. “We have a bunch of guys who came in together, and we're pushing each other.”

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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