Pitching to lead Derry Legion team early on
With a roster mostly made up of players from the Derry Area High School baseball team, the Derry American Legion squad is primed for a strong season under first-year coach Tom McKee.
Derry's high school team lost to Hopewell, 1-0, in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs earlier this month. On the mound that day for the Trojans was Connor Wege, who will be one of the starting pitchers for the Derry Legion team this season.
Wege put together a strong pitching performance against Hopewell, giving up the only run of the contest on just five hits.
Because of the compact nature of the Legion schedule, McKee figures to use three or four starters during the season to keep his staff fresh.
Eric Reitz, who just finished up his freshman year at St. Vincent College, will be at the top of the rotation, followed by Wege, Joe Kelly and Luke Ridilla.
“We have a deep pitching staff,” McKee said.
In his first year of collegiate baseball, Reitz had an 0-1 record with a 6.94 ERA in six appearances for the Bearcats.
Defensively, Derry will be anchored by another college freshman: catcher Jordan Randall.
“He's an excellent leader,” McKee said of his veteran backstop. “He did a good job of getting everyone organized and excited for the Legion season.”
Continuing Derry's strength up the middle is Ridilla, who will start at shortstop when he's not pitching.
Patrolling center field will be Johnny Panizzi, who posted a batting average above .400 during the high school season. He will bat in the leadoff spot this season.
McKee likes Panizzi's attitude toward the game in addition to his skills with the glove.
“He's a very laid-back kid,” McKee said. “He likes to have fun.
“And he covers a lot of ground out there in center field.”
Latrobe figures to be Derry's toughest competition in the Southern Division of District 31.
“Latrobe is always competitive,” McKee said.
Adding to the Derry-Latrobe rivalry this spring is the relationship between McKee and Latrobe coach Jason Bush. McKee played for Bush, and Bush gave McKee his first assistant coaching job.
“He has been my coaching mentor,” McKee said of Bush. “The coaching opportunities I've received are because of him.”
Not only will the two coaches be in opposing dugouts when Derry and Latrobe meet during the season, but they also coach together for the Frontier Club team in the Latrobe-Derry Area Teener League.
“It's going to be fun and interesting to face him during the regular season and hopefully in the playoffs,” McKee said.
McKee is enjoying what he calls a “great atmosphere” that surrounds his team as the season gets under way.
“The kids are excited to carry over the success they had in the high school season to the Legion season,” McKee said.
McKee took over the reins of the Derry squad from Chris Pakos, who had coached the team for the past three seasons.
Derry was slated to open the season last Thursday against Murrysville, but the game postponed because of rain.
Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.