Penn-Trafford graduates fare well with Penn State Greater Allegheny baseball team
Evan James' journey from Penn-Trafford to Penn State Greater Allegheny was a long one, featuring stops at three different schools before he landed at the Penn State branch campus located in McKeesport.
After all those stops, he finally found a home — and with some familiar teammates to boot.
James, a redshirt junior, appeared in 12 games (11 starts) for Greater Allegheny this season and finished 7-2 with a 3.44 earned-run average. He was named first-team all-conference in the Penn State University Athletic Conference.
But James, a 2009 Penn-Trafford graduate, was far from the only former Warrior to contribute this spring for Greater Allegheny, which went 35-17 and finished in second place at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Small College World Series at Pullman Park in Butler in May. In addition to James, Penn-Trafford graduates Aaron McGee and Sam Weightman (2010) and Tom Williams (2012) also played significant roles for Greater Allegheny this season.
“Penn-Trafford's been good to us lately, the last couple of years,” said Greater Allegheny coach Jim Chester, who recently moved within P-T school district boundaries himself.
James began his career at Pitt Johnstown, where he came down with mononucleosis. He moved from there to Westmoreland County Community College before transferring to Western Oklahoma State for the 2012 season.
At Western Oklahoma, James developed an arm injury — internal impingement of the shoulder — and had to sit out most of last season, taking a medical redshirt in the process.
He decided to return home for the 2013 season.
“Being so far from home, it wasn't that bad — but it was hard not being able to see my family,” James said. “I looked at a couple schools around here locally and got a couple offers, and I just liked what Coach Chester had to say, his mentality and how he carried himself. He sold me on that. It was probably one of the best decisions I made.”
James' 70 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched led the team, and his seven wins were tied for tops on the team.
“I didn't have my best stuff to begin with because I wasn't in midseason form like some of the guys,” he said. “As I got more comfortable out there, I started getting into my rhythm and really just pounding the strike zone and getting guys out, basically taking control of the games. Whenever you have your whole team around you, it makes it a lot easier as well.”
Weightman, meanwhile, began his career at Greater Allegheny. He was named a USCAA First-Team All-American in 2012 after batting .403 with five home runs and 40 runs batted in.
The success at the plate continued this season, as Weightman hit .328 with four home runs and 38 RBIs.
“Sam can flat-out hit,” Chester said. “(He) got off to a little bit of a slow start, but then he really figured it out again down the stretch and got some really big hits for us.”
Weightman said the key to his success was focusing on situational baseball, such as hitting behind the runner.
“We practice a lot on situational stuff so when it comes down to game time, we know how to execute and we execute pretty well,” Weightman said. “That's what I try to be better at because if that happens, we get to rolling (and) other things fall into place.”
Like James, McGee began his collegiate career at a different school. He first went to Seton Hill, then transferred to WCCC before eventually coming to Greater Allegheny for this season.
The presence of close friend Weightman played a big role in the decision.
“He was sort of the reason I went there,” said McGee, a redshirt sophomore.
McGee took on a dual role for Greater Allegheny during the season as both a position player and pitcher. He batted .304 with 10 RBIs in 79 at-bats and went 5-1 with one save and a 3.63 ERA on the mound.
“It's great,” McGee said of the dual role. “Any way I can help the team, I would love to do so. If they need me to throw innings, I'll throw.”
Williams, a freshman, appeared in 27 games for Greater Allegheny and batted .178 with seven RBIs.
Chester said Williams' greatest impact came on the defensive side of the field.
“We had some uncertainties at shortstop (early on),” Chester said. “About halfway through the year, when we started our run, we inserted Tommy at shortstop. I know offensively his stats don't jump out, but he played an absolutely flawless shortstop. He brought some things to the table defensively that other kids couldn't. He was a huge, huge asset for our program.”
After beginning the season 15-14, Greater Allegheny closed the season by winning 20 of its final 23 games. The team won the PSUAC championship, and the second-place finish at the World Series was the best in program history.
“The last month of the season was as much fun as I've had on a baseball field,” Chester said. “It was a lot of fun to watch those young men come together at the end of the season and play really well.”
The Penn-Trafford players expect to return again next season and play together, which Weightman said was a “humbling feeling.”
“It's a good time because we're familiar with each other,” Weightman said. “A couple of us played together in high school and a couple of us didn't, but it's a good time. We're all from the same area, the same school, and we carried that into college. It's a nice humbling feeling to have.”