Retzer leads Ford City baseball into new season
Despite a fourth-place finish in WPIAL Section 3-AA last year, Ford City assistant baseball coach Dennis Montgomery believes his team was just three hits away from an undefeated section record and one hit away from a playoff berth.
Montgomery felt there was one aspect of the game last season that caused the Sabers to finish behind perennial section powers Freeport, Burrell and Deer Lakes — hitting with runners in scoring position.
“We need to be able to knock in some runs when the opportunity presents itself,” Montgomery said. “What we need to improve on is hitting with runners in scoring position, and that's it in a nutshell.”
Ford City will look to improve on its 8-8 record from last year (7-5 in section) and will try to do so with good pitching and playing “small ball” by manufacturing runs.
“When we get ourselves in a position to score a run from third base we need to do that, because we're not going to hit a two-run homer and make up for it in the next inning,” Montgomery said.
Despite that mentality, he pointed out two players on this year's squad who have power potential: senior pitcher/infielder Justin Retzer and sophomore third baseman Blake Bower.
Retzer led the team last year in batting average (.483), runs (23), hits (29) and doubles (6) while also collecting 13 RBI. Bower hit .212 with 11 hits and six RBI as a freshman and will be counted on this year in the middle of the order.
Senior outfielder Brandon Dineley hit .286 with a team-high 15 RBI.
While his position is not locked down yet, senior Aaron Shaner has shown the coaching staff what he can do through his athleticism and desire to improve after hitting .316 last year.
“Aaron's going to play somewhere,” Montgomery said. “We're not sure if he's going to catch, play infield or play outfield, but we're really counting on him. He showed signs last year, he's a senior this year and we're really looking forward to trying to find a home for him. We really think he can help us out somewhere, we're not exactly sure where yet.”
Retzer, a West Liberty University recruit, will lead the pitching staff once again this season. He has a four-pitch arsenal with a fastball, slider, curveball and change-up but said he relies the most on his fastball.
“I can throw it in the mid-80s and not many people can do that,” Retzer said. “I just like my fastball, because I can locate it pretty well.”
Added Montgomery, “He'll be our top returner. He was 2-2 last year on the mound, he should've been 4-0. He's a competitor for us, and he's going to kind of lead the way. We'll follow his lead and see where we go.”
Senior Dave Lattanzio will back up Retzer as the No. 2 pitcher, and junior and Karns City transfer Ashton McGinnis most likely will slide into the No. 3 position.
Retzer set his goals high this season, targeting a section title. Montgomery, entering his second year with the program along with his brother and head coach Dave Montgomery, said he's beginning to see a change in the culture of Ford City baseball.
“Last year we had a lot of guys who were used to doing things their own way and we didn't buy into the system,” he said. “We really have the feeling this year that guys are committed. ... I think a lot of the guys are tired of losing, and everybody's committed their efforts to a winning baseball season.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.