Quaker Valley, Sewickley Academy baseball teams welcome new coaches
When the Quaker Valley and Sewickley Academy baseball teams take the field this season, they will do so with new coaches in the dugouts.
The Quakers are welcoming in Todd Goble, who previously coached Northgate from 2001-12 and remains a physical education teacher there.
“Quaker Valley is a great school district,” Goble said. “It is a place where baseball can be on par with basketball and other sports. I like the challenge.”
The challenge of getting the Quakers to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2006 and improving on a 10-6 mark from 2012 will be made a little easier with plenty of returning talent. Seniors Jake Pilewicz and Shane Emery, along with junior lefty Matt Delie, all are returning pitchers who gained experience last season.
“We have some sophomores we will use that have the ability to eat up some innings,” Goble said.
Senior shortstop T.J. Kuny is a player Goble said has been impressive since offseason conditioning and is in line for a big year. Junior catcher Ben Utterback is another player that has looked strong in practice.
“I am not sure how much time he got behind the plate last year,” Goble said. “He has been impressive though. He is not as much of a vocal leader but more of a leader by example.”
Pilewicz — who will play third base when not pitching — will provide Quaker Valley some power at the plate. Senior Nelson Westwood also returns to provide a consistent bat but is playing catch up after helping lead the basketball team to the PIAA playoffs.
“I could name six or seven guys who will provide us solid at-bats, but it's really yet to be determined,” Goble said. “We haven't been practicing out of the gym too much yet and have had only one scrimmage so far.”
Section 1-AA will have a new look this season. A handful of teams changed classifications — South Fayette will be in Class AAA while Bishop Canevin, Sto-Rox and Northgate dropped to Class A — but the section will be as tough as ever. Seton-La Salle, Freedom and Carlynton all return and Avonworth and South Side Beaver should provide solid competition as newcomers.
“It is always a tough section and I think it is even tougher this season,” Goble said. “We are going to step up and play hard every game. Our goal is to play consistent every ball game. From that point, the goal is to win the section and get to the playoffs and go as far as we can.”
The Quakers get the season under way March 28 when they host Cornell.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are getting a little wild.
Sewickley Academy will be under the guidance of coach Andrew Heck, who currently plays for the Washington Wild Things, an independent team that plays in the Frontier League.
Heck, a North Hills grad, was a member of the Duquesne baseball team for three years before the program was shut down. He then transferred to Oklahoma State for his senior season.
“I was hesitant to jump into coaching but Sewickley Academy was OK with me playing and gave me this opportunity,” Heck said. “To be able to coach while still playing was something I couldn't turn down.”
The first-year coach said his No. 1 goal this year is to have the team stop giving up big innings to the opposition as it tries to improve on its 5-9 record from 2012.
“They have played well but one bad inning killed them,” Heck said. “We need to prevent that. We need to slow it down if the other team gets a few hits. We need to focus on the fundamentals and composing ourselves.”
The focus will start with the pitching staff. Sophomore Joe Nagel was one of the Panthers' top pitchers last season, and Heck is excited to see how the youngster can develop.
“We are hoping he continues to advance like he is,” Heck said. “To have played as a freshman at the high school level, he has a chance to play at the next level if he can keep it going with his grades and talent.”
Senior Jordan Milo, junior Sam Duerr and sophomore lefty Drew Johnson have also been strong in early practices, and Avonworth transfer Christopher Dick has added some depth.
The pitching staff will be helped by the presence of Evan Haines behind the plate. Heck said the senior has stepped up as a leader.
Batting will be a focus for the new coaching staff this season as they try to improve the players' technique to help produce runs.
“If someone doesn't have two strikes, I want them swinging hard,” Heck said. “I want to teach the guys the right way to hit. A lot of guys have made adjustments already.”
Sewickley Academy will play in the newly formed Section 5-A against the likes of Cornell, Northgate, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Sto-Rox and Vincentian Academy.
“I would love to see us get on a winning streak,” Heck said. “Making playoffs is the goal. It always should be. I don't want to be unrealistic and say we are planning on winning the WPIAL or states. But if we beat the teams we should and battle the teams that are projected to be on top of the section, playoffs is a realistic goal.”
The Panthers will start their season Tuesday as they host Aliquippa at 3:45 p.m.