Gators eye another playoff run in 2013
At the midway point of last year's Section 4 race for the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs, the Gateway varsity baseball team had its back against the wall.
The Gators were 2-4, and they knew they had to make a strong second-half push to remain in the mix.
Plum and Pittsburgh Central Catholic both were on a roll, and the two teams eventually finished tied for the section title with 10-2 records.
Gateway also faced a challenge from Franklin Regional, which was 5-1 after six games.
The Gators responded down the stretch, as they went 5-1 over the second half of the section schedule. That run included dramatic wins at home against Plum and Kiski Area to finish at 7-5.
Meanwhile, Franklin Regional scuffled to a 2-4 mark in its final six section contests. The Gators and Panthers split their season series and their identical 7-5 section records put them both in the playoffs.
Gateway hopes to make another run at the playoffs in 2013, and a number of new starters will have to play key roles in that effort. Nine seniors who were big parts of the run to the playoffs last year graduated.
Despite the graduation losses, head coach Mark Wardzinski is optimistic.
“Everything has been going great, except for the weather,” he said.
Gateway got outside for the second time this spring with a scrimmage against West Mifflin on Friday.
“It was an eye-opener for us to see how much we still needed to work on,” Wardzinski said.
“We only had two base hits and lost 7-1, but it was nice just to get outside and see what we had on the field and see what we had with our pitching. There were some things we can build on.”
Dan Toner, one of the top hitters on the team last year, is back. The senior will return to shortstop.
“Dan should be back in one of the top three spots in the batting order,” Wardzinski said.
“He's a big time leader on our team.”
Wardzinski expects junior Jessi Rossi to be a big hitter in the lineup.
Rossi either will catch or see time at first base, and he got some varsity experience at the end of last season.
“He makes great contact and can hit for power,” Wardzinski said.
Junior Adam Salandro will be at second base, and Wardzinski said he and Toner make a nice middle-infield combination. Salandro also returns with varsity experience.
“We have guys on this team who know what it takes to get to the playoffs,” Wardzinski said.
Varsity veteran Alex Augustine, a senior, and senior Tyler Boehm are in the mix for the third-base job, while senior Alan Muir is in the running for time at catcher.
Sophomore Jimmy Waibel and junior Cody Emerick are competing for time at first base.
Wardzinski said seniors Matt Whelan and Nate Dillon currently are the favorites to be in left field and center field, respectively, while Augustine, Boehm, Emerick and senior Connor Olson are vying for time in right field.
Whelan returns to the baseball team after playing lacrosse last spring.
Olson made several varsity pitching appearances last year, while Toner also pitched some innings in 2012. Both will be on the pitching staff again, and Augustine and Salandro are projected to join them.
“Hopefully, a few more guys will step up into (pitching) starting or relief roles,” Wardzinski said.
The section underwent big changes in the offseason. Kiski Area, Woodland Hills and Penn Hills moved to other sections, while Baldwin and McKeesport moved in.
Plum, Central Catholic, Franklin Regional and Gateway are together again, and it has changed from Section 4 to Section 3.
“Central, Plum and Franklin are always challenging opponents, and we don't know what to expect from McKeesport and Baldwin,” Wardzinski said.
“But we're excited to play against them and get the season going. It's said a lot, but we're taking it one game at a time.”
Weather permitting, Gateway opens its season Friday at 4 p.m. at former section foe Kiski Area.
The Gators visit North Hills on Wednesday at 4 p.m. and host South Park on March 28 at 4 p.m.
After road games against North Allegheny on April 3 and Fox Chapel on April 5, Gateway opens Section 3 play at Pittsburgh Central Catholic on April 8.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.