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Steel Valley baseball looking for new pitchers to step up

| Friday, March 22, 2013, 1:56 a.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Steel Valley's Brandon Donovan is one of the team's key returners for 2013.

If Steel Valley baseball coach Tim Vickers viewed it as an important game, you better believe that he was going to call on Derek Morrison to take the mound.

Vickers did so during Steel Valley's playoff game against Deer Lakes two years ago when Morrison was a freshman, again last year against South Fayette and all four times the Ironmen played section frontrunner Greensburg Central Catholic the past two years.

Vickers won't have that luxury this year.

The powerful left-hander underwent Tommy John surgery during the fall and won't pitch this year for the Ironmen, who are suddenly starved for experience on the mound.

“Awesome, huh?” said Vickers in disbelief — even though he's had six months to come to terms with the loss of Morrison. “It is safe to say that it is a pretty big loss.”

Morrison went 4-2 for Steel Valley (9-2) last year throwing 44 13 innings, striking out 30 and finishing with a 2.53 ERA. Morrison threw 6 13 innings of five-hit ball in picking up a no decision in a first-round playoff loss against South Fayette.

Throw in the graduation of Thayne Mitrik and Sean Lyons, and Vickers returns only 20 innings worth of experience on his pitching staff.

“The thing is we have a pretty good pitching staff even without him,” said Vickers, who has a 61-47-1 record and five playoff appearance in six seasons. “It might sound crazy, but we are going to get by with our pitching this year.”

Vickers has high expectations for a pair of sophomores, Brandon Donovan and Jesse Cantley, along with Pat O'Malley, Steel Valley's starting quarterback the past two years who decided to come out for baseball this year.

Donovan threw most of his 16 innings last year in relief. He struck out 12 and had an ERA of 1.75.

“Nobody even really knows about Donovan,” Vickers said. “We brought him along slowly last year. We really wanted him to ease into it a little bit.”

Cantley threw only four innings last year, and O'Malley is still adjusting to baseball.

“O'Malley is pretty solid,” Vickers said. “He is learning as he goes. It is a completely different throw than football, but he has adjusted well. He has a real live arm, and we are going to ease him into it and see how it works out.”

Offense could be an issue for the Ironmen after losing Mitrik (.333), Lyons and Ben Bobick (.385) to graduation.

“We can't replace those guys,” Vickers said. “You are dealing with a kid who is a three-time all-section player, a kid who was a two-time all-section player and another one who played every position of the field and played it well. At the same time, we had a couple guys who were in waiting for positions. They got an opportunity to learn and learn a lot. They learned the speed of the game and what we expect of them.”

Morrison (11 RBI) will be the designated hitter and will be joined in the lineup by returning starters Sean McShane (shortstop), Pat Jobes (catcher), Sam Ligeros (outfield), Andrew Chuba (outfield) and Donovan.

“We were comfortable going into last year because it seemed like that team was together for a long time,” Vickers said. “It seems like we got better in some positions this year, but until you get outside on some dirt you never know. There are a lot of unknowns at this time.”

Also set to contribute are Seth Berneburg, Matt Hoesch, Mike Hoesch, Jesse Lyons, Bryce Varhola and Ryan Wissinger.

“I am not going to say that we are going to be better or worse than last year, but we are going to compete,” Vickers said.

Steel Valley opens Monday with a nonsection game against Bishop Canevin at West Field.

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