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Jeannette Senior American Legion baseball team off to slow start

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
PHOTOS: John Howard | The Jeannette Spirit
Dylan Sabo, 17, runs to first base.
Rob Duffy, 17, runs safely to first base during a Jeannette Senior Legion baseball game.

After suffering a lopsided loss, it would be easy for Tyler Stevenson and his teammates on the Jeannette Senior American Legion baseball team to get down. It would be understandable for them to go out and press, trying to overcompensate for one bad outing.

But that's not the personality of Stevenson or his Jeannette squad. Instead, with quiet confidence, they are preparing for a crucial stretch of the season ­— one that could have an impact on their playoff chances — one game at a time.

“We don't really look that far ahead in the future. We just look to the next game and try to win that one game,” said Stevenson, an 18-year-old infielder and pitcher.

Jeannette lost to Greensburg 14-1 on Saturday to fall to 3-4. Jeannette had two hits and yielded just four hits, but the team walked nine, in addition to hitting three batters and committing seven errors.

“We had no hitting, no defense, no pitching,” said Jeannette head coach Jules Ponterio. “Nobody should get 14 runs on four hits.”

Jeannette hadn't played a game in 12 days, due to scheduling quirks. As a result, the team was rusty and clearly out of sync.

“We weren't ready to play,” said Ponterio. “We had more errors in that game than we had all year. That tells me the layoff definitely hurt us.”

As he has done all season, Stevenson provided the offense for Jeannette, hitting a double to score Adam Shorthouse; he's now hitting .321 on the season. The Lincoln Heights resident and Hempfield graduate is primarily a first baseman, but he also plays at other spots around the infield and is generally the leadoff hitter.

Stevenson has been on the team for the past three years, since Ponterio's first year as the coach. The young athlete said this team is different from those of recent years and will not let the bad outing shake their confidence.

“I feel like we've grown a lot as a team,” he said. “When I first came here, there was no leadership. We didn't play together as a team. Everyone was trying to go out and be an all-star I guess, instead of playing as a team. But the more we've gotten comfortable with coach, the more we've trusted him, the more success we've had.”

That's why he's confident the team will catch fire in the second half of the season. In fact, he not only expects the team to make the playoffs, Stevenson is expecting the squad to go deep into the playoffs.

“I feel this team is not only capable of making the playoffs, I feel it is capable of making it to states,” he said. “I feel like everyone on the team has the ability we need to make it to states, and everybody on this team has the drive to win.”

Ponterio said the quiet leadership displayed by Stevenson, in addition to his baseball abilities, has been a factor in Jeannette's success this season.

“Tyler isn't a ‘rah rah' kid. He's quiet and leads by example,” said Ponterio. “Tyler is a very, very intense baseball player. He doesn't like making mistakes, and he gets angry with himself when he does make a mistake.”

Ponterio said he's helped Stevenson to properly channel that emotion in a way to increase his productivity.

“You can't get too high, and you can't get too low,” said the coach. “He's still intense, but he's really calmed, too.”

The results are evident in how Stevenson is playing on the diamond.

“I'm proud of him and how he's done this year,” said Ponterio. “He's our leadoff hitter, and I move him all around the diamond. He does whatever I ask of him. He's a good hitter, a great fielder and he's a solid pitcher, too.”

Stevenson has not pitched during the Legion season thus far because of some elbow soreness, but he expects to return to the mound soon, which will add more depth to Jeannette's pitching staff.

Jeannette visited Hempfield on Tuesday, but the game ended too late for this edition.

“I'm still very confident we'll make the playoffs,” said Ponterio. “This is an important stretch.”

Senior Legion schedule:

The team is at home against Derry at 6 p.m. today, away at West Hempfield at 1 p.m. on June 23, at home against Latrobe at 6 p.m. on June 27, away at Yough at 6 p.m. on June 28, at home against Mt. Pleasant at 8 p.m. on June 29 and away at Unity at 1 p.m. on June 30.

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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