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Seniors to lead Latrobe baseball into new section

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 6:06 p.m.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Ryan Augustine bats during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Ryan Shawley fields a ground ball during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Jared Kollar bats during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Ryan Shawley bats during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Tyler Roble catches during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Ryan Augustine bats during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Zack Kokoska pitches during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Mason Petrosky makes a throw to first base during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Mason Petrosky bats during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Tyler Roble bats during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Zack Kokoska bats during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Jared Kollar pitches during a scrimmage with Blairsville on Monday, March 20, 2017, at Greater Latrobe High School.

Latrobe has plenty of offense returning led by potential major league draft pick Zach Kokoska and fellow first-team all-section player Jared Kollar.

But don't expect the experienced Wildcats to swing for the fences with reckless abandon.

“We have some kids who can hit the ball,” coach Matt Basciano said. “But we have to work on situational hitting. We had some issues with that last year. We have to work on getting guys into scoring position.”

Even the best teams have to turn to “small ball” to win tight games. It can be a game of tactics, particularly in the playoffs where it's one-and-done. But Latrobe still has the big-swinging power to produce runs and knock around pitchers.

Six senior starters come back from a quarterfinal team.

“This group all have played since they were freshmen,” Basciano said. “Most of them have started since they were sophomores. We just have to make sure we don't slip into that senior funk. We can't get complacent and rest on the past. Nothing is going to be given to you.”

Kokoska is a Virginia Tech recruit. He is one of the WPIAL's top outfielders and also pitches. He hit .456 last year with 31 hits, 10 for extra bases, 16 RBIs and 24 runs, and struck out 40 on the mound.

Kollar, the team's top pitcher and a dependable shortstop, went 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA and 57 strikeouts. But he also hit .413 with 23 RBIs and nine doubles.

Kollar is a Seton Hill recruit.

Asked about the team' expectations, Kokoska said, “What we expect to do is win and compete. I expect all of us to make a huge run and not let a single team get in the way.”

Fair enough. The talent is there. Kokoska is the multi-talented cornerstone ready to lead the way.

“Big things are expected of Zach down the road, but he is focused and taking charge as a leader for us,” Basciano said.

Senior Ryan Shawley is another pitching arm for the Wildcats, and senior Ryan Augustine and junior Griffin Clark should also log innings.

Shawley committed to Chatham, and Augustine is headed to St. Vincent.

Other key players are senior catcher Tyler Roble, senior third baseman Mason Petrosky, senior outfielders Tony Aiello and Antonio Noble, senior infielder Dan Stas and juniors Preston Boerio, Andy Bradford and Adam Wolford.

Sophomores Isaac Echard and Matt Henderson also could be counted in that group.

Latrobe finished 14-8 last season and lost to eventual-champion Norwin, 7-1, in the Class 4A quarterfinals.

Basciano said this group has similar potential to the 2004 team that won a section title and made the WPIAL quarterfinals.

“This team has the most returning starters of any I've had here,” the coach said.

The Wildcats move up to Class 5A this season and join seven other teams in Section 3, many of which are unfamiliar to the Wildcats.

“It's tough to say what it will be like,” Basciano said.

“The only team back we know about is Albert Gallatin. We have played Franklin Regional so we know them. It's hard to get a gauge.”

One section opponent, Laurel Highlands, is expected to push the Wildcats for the section title. Gateway and Woodland Hills were playoff teams last season.

When the snow melted, Latrobe was hoping to play a couple of scrimmages at Graham-Sobota Field, its sleek turf venue introduced in 2015.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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