Kittanning baseball hoping to end 13-year playoff drought
The last time the Kittanning baseball team qualified for the WPIAL playoffs, this year's seniors were months away from starting kindergarten.
These Wildcats have only two seniors on the roster, and they're out to end that 13-year streak.
“That's our goal as a team: to make the playoffs,” coach John Davis said. “There's a lot of kids who are hungry for it. We'll see if we can work it out this year and if the kids respond well.”
Center fielder/pitcher Blake Davis and shortstop/pitcher Mitchell Pirhalla were two of the top players last season for Kittanning, and they make up the entirety of the Wildcats' senior class for this campaign that is scheduled to begin 4 p.m. Friday at home against Springdale.
John Davis, Blake's father, believes the talent is on hand for a successful season; it's a matter of identifying roles for the bevy of underclassmen and hoping they step into them seamlessly.
“We have a good group of starters back, and hopefully we can add to the mix with some juniors and some sophomores to help round out the team,” John Davis said. “Hopefully things will fall into place. It's going to take a real team effort this year I can tell you that.”
Kittanning is motivated by erasing the memory of last season's 4-14 record that is among the worst in the program's history. In the three years prior to that, the Wildcats were a combined 26-27.
“We kind of do want to make up for last year,” said Blake Davis, the team's second-leading returning hitter at .306 last season. “Last year's season was kind of embarrassing. It wasn't good; that's for sure.”
Although juniors Shawn Shaner and Jordan Lattanzi also return as starters, Blake Davis and Pirhalla understand the responsibility they have in being the team's lone seniors.
“Having two seniors, we have to take a big role in setting a good example because all the other kids need to know what it's going to be like playing varsity and how much different that game is when you get to that level,” Pirhalla said.
Shaner, a catcher, was Kittanning's leading hitter last season at .386. An infielder, Lattanzi projects to be a member of the Wildcats' pitching staff along with Blake Davis, Pirhalla, sophomores Christian Miller and Logan Slage and juniors Liam Doms and Max Mechling.
John Davis said the team is working on finding roles in the lineup and on the field for Miller and Slagle as well as sophomore Sam Keibler and Mechling, who did not play last season because of an injury.
“We have to try to find where we jell,” Blake Davis said.
That's been easier said than done what with the predictably uncooperative weather this month. Kittanning had only one outdoor practice heading into a scheduled workout Wednesday.
“What's going to be big is we're not exactly sure where everyone's going to be playing yet,” Pirhalla said. “When you haven't been outside on the field too much, you can't see what different positions people fit into.”
Although the name of the section Kittanning competes in has changed, it's essentially the same collection of teams. The former Section 4-AAA is now Section 5-AAA but without East Allegheny and Indiana.
Just having two fewer teams to contend with mathematically could make the Wildcats' goal of a playoff berth all the more attainable.
“We think we'll be a lot better than we were last year,” Blake Davis said. “We know we have a chance to contend for a playoff spot.”