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Jeannette baseball boasts rare wealth of experience

| Sunday, March 19, 2017, 5:36 p.m.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Jeannette Baseball Head Coach Marcus Clarkson, center, attempts to free a glove stuck in a net during practice on Thursday at Jeannette Middle School.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
The Jeannette baseball players line up for a pop fly drill during practice Thursday, March 16, 2017, at Jeannette Middle School.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Jeannette baseball players run suicides at the end of practice during practice on Thursday at Jeannette Middle School.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Jeannette baseball players work their way through a series of burpies after a batting drill during practice on Thursday at Jeannette Middle School.

In half its regular-season games last season, the Jeannette baseball team was able to bottle up its opponents bats, holding foes to four runs or fewer in eight of 16 contests.

The end result for the Jayhawks (9-8, 7-3) was a third-place finish in Section 2A, just behind Greensburg Central Catholic and Serra Catholic, which played for the WPIAL Class A title.

After graduating just three players from last season's team, coach Marcus Clarkson enters this year with a stable of potent pitching arms that should be able to throw with the best of them in Class A.

“Usually we have a young roster most seasons, as a small school. But this year, we do have an experienced roster. We have four seniors that have been playing for the last three years, we have a good junior class and we have some talented sophomores,” Clarkson said.

“It's unusual, but it's also an advantage for us.”

Seniors Mike Pompei and Blaze Tran begin the season as Jeannette's most established starting pitchers. Both showed signs of serious command last season, with Pompei earning a 4-3 win against a stacked Greensburg Central Catholic offense and Tran falling just one out short of a no-hitter against Monessen. Both had an ERA under 3.00 last year.

“Blaze is a lefty, and his fastball has only gotten faster as he's grown. Where he is right now, velocity-wise, I'm happy with him and once he really starts controlling his off-speed stuff, he'll be a lot for hitters to handle,” Clarkson said.

“Mikey, he's a big righty, and he's a guy where the stage is never too big for him. He beat Central last year throwing a lot of off-speed stuff. He's just going to do whatever it takes to get you out. Throw him in any situation, and he'll excel.”

Another player expected to take the mound is Tre Cunningham. The junior also plays third base, but after shooting up three inches to stand at 6-foot-3, his live arm has his coach seeing the potential to overpower batters this season.

Last season's all-section shortstop, Tyler Elliot, could see some time on the bump this year. The same goes for sophomores Seth Howard and Zander Malik.

Malik earned a handful of wins last season, and Howard made his mark by batting .406 in his first season of varsity action.

“He's a kid that you're definitely going to be seeing his name throughout the year. He's got a real live arm. I think he'll probably settle into the outfield for us when he doesn't pitch, but he's one of the better ballplayers that I've seen as a young player,” Clarkson said.

All-section senior catcher Eric Hall will be on the receiving end of Jeannette's experienced pitching staff, and fellow senior Brendt Billeck will return to play first base and add some pop to the Jayhawks lineup.

The two fourth-year players round out a class coach Clarkson said is determined to reach beyond what it had accomplished prior to this year.

“Every year is different, and even though we made the playoffs last year it was sort of a disappointing end. We didn't play well in the playoff game,” Clarkson said.

“I think with that bad taste in their mouth, our senior class, I think they're pretty motivated to go further then last year.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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