Serra baseball team eyes return to recent glory
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Brian Dzurenda is well aware of the specifics, and the veteran Serra Catholic baseball coach is pretty sure what his program was able to accomplish over a five-year span will never happen again.
Not the 104-16 record; not the streak of 42 section wins in a span of 43 games; not the 23 playoff wins; not the two WPIAL titles; not the three consecutive state championship-game appearances — none of it will ever be duplicated.
“Yeah, I don't know if that ever will happen again,” Dzurenda said.
Now, Dzurenda never said anything about expectations changing.
You'd figure despite Serra (13-6) falling apart down the stretch last year, dropping five of its final eight games to snap its streak of four consecutive 20-win seasons, coupled with losing one of the winningest pitchers in WPIAL history Alain Girman (31-2, 1.18 ERA) to graduation would temper those expectations.
That's just not how Dzurenda has won 198 games in 13 years at Serra.
“I want them to live up to those expectations that the teams before them set,” Dzurenda said. “I want them to know that we built this tradition of winning and a lot of these kids hold themselves to a higher standard because of the winning we've done.”
All that winning may have ultimately led to the Eagles' demise last year. After starting the season 10-1, Serra lost three in a row within a span of four days, two of which were when Girman was on the mound, including his first career loss.
The Eagles were unable to put those defeats behind them, losing to OLSH in nine innings in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals.
“It left a little bit of a sour taste in a lot of these kids' mouths,” Dzurenda said. “Maybe some people, myself included, became a little complacent last year.”
Serra can't afford to be complacent this year. There are no superstar pitchers or Division I players on the team. They have been replaced by a handful of solid returning starters along with a bunch of talented yet unproven sophomores.
“It's a brand-new start for us,” Dzurenda said. “Yesterday's home runs don't win tomorrow's games. We have some very talented young players and we are going to hold on our own. I am not going to predict anything but this group has a real good chance to do some special things.”
Serra returns four starters who were part of the 2011 state championship team — seniors Chad Hazaga, Wayne Hydak and Dylan Kugler and junior Brandon Coddington.
Hazaga and Hydak will be Serra's top pitchers. Both saw significant time on the mound a season ago.
“We are going to lean on those two guys heavily this season,” Dzurenda said. “These are seniors who are battled tested.”
Kugler will be a four-year starter and Coddington a three-year starter.
After that, the experience is limited.
Sophomore outfielders Dan Guzik and Parker Janosko saw plenty of time as freshmen and fellow sophomores Ryan Holland, Zach Quattrone and John Fazio are expected to contribute in the infield.
Throw in senior pitcher Dan Popovich, a McKeesport transfer, as well as upstart freshman outfielder Noah Kisner, and Dzurenda is optimistic.
“These kids do what I tell them to do and that energizes me to know we are going to do what it takes to get to that next level,” Dzurenda said. “We should be a playoff team this year and once you get to the playoffs, who knows?”
Serra will have better competition in Section 2-A with Bishop Canevin and Frazier dropping down a class to join much-improved Monessen, Geibel and Clairton.
“People are writing us off … that's fine,” Dzurenda said. “We will let them. We just might surprise some people.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib
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