Latrobe Legion team prepares for summer season
Latrobe has advanced to the District 31 Westmoreland County American Legion baseball playoffs in each of thepast 21 seasons.
For coach Jason Bush and his son, assistant coach Zach Bush, one of many team goals for this season is to continue those winning ways and raise that playoff streak to No. 22.
“Our goals since this coaching staff has started has remained the same since the last coaching staff; the goals are kind of chronological,” Zach Bush said. “The first one is to make the playoffs. Next goal, obviously, is to win our division. The next one is win the district regular season, and then it gets into the playoffs — win the first round, win the district, move on to the regional tournament.”
The 12-team league, which Jason Bush compared to the level of play in WPIAL Class AAAA baseball, consists of teams ranging throughout Westmoreland County and runs from late May into July. The league is available to boys ranging from ages 15-19.
With so many players looking to play summer baseball, areas like Latrobe and Hempfield are split into two teams based on where a player lives to accommodate everyone.
“There's going to be guys that play for Unity and play for Latrobe that turned a double play probably this year together,” Jason Bush said. “This summer they're going to be playing against each other.”
The Latrobe team primarily is composed of players who played on the Latrobe High School team, which finished 8-10 overall and 6-6 in Section 2-AAAA.
But the team also features two players from Ligonier Valley, Eddie Kilkeary from Greensburg Central Catholic, as well as two players who just finished their freshman seasons in college.
The team will be led on the mound by Ryan Bisi, who plays for Bethany College, and Dom Shojaie, a player on George Mason's club baseball team. Both players played in high school for Latrobe.
Another key member of the pitching staff is Jonathan Kolling, who threw a no-hitter this season in Latrobe's 7-0 win over Kiski Area.
Kilkeary, a key member of Greensburg Central Catholic's team that advanced to the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals this season, will play catcher and in the outfield for Latrobe this summer. Kilkeary hit .403 with two home runs and 17 RBI this year for the Centurions.
While the coaching staff noted this team may not have one star player, the club's depth could be its strength.
“One of the things that I think is going to be a unique challenge for (the coaching staff) this year is I'm not sure that there's a whole lot of difference between our fourth- and 14th-best player,” said Jason Bush, entering his 14th season with Latrobe and his eighth as head coach. “So a lot of times the lineup might be dictated by who might be hot, who might be cold, what might be a better matchup. I think we have a solid roster from 1-18.”
“We've had a lot of turnover from last year. We have 11 new players coming on the roster, and we're going to be young,” Zach Bush added. “But I think what separates this team from teams in the past is they pay very close attention to details of the game.”
But beyond the wins and losses, American Legion baseball is simply a good way for local players to continue to play baseball after their high school season comes to a close.
“I'm a huge proponent of Legion baseball,” Jason Bush said. “I think No. 1, as far as the game itself, it allows the kids to have somewhere to play. They're able to play for their community. We always talk about taking pride in the fact that they have Latrobe on their jersey and no names on their back, because they want to play for their team. Sometimes this is one of the last seasons that you're going to get to play baseball, so some of these guys are really motivated for their last hurrah.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.