Derry baseball welcomes plenty of new faces to starting lineup
There's no doubt the 2013 Derry baseball team looks a lot different than last year's edition.
But that may not be all that bad.
The Trojans have a host of new starters and fresh faces on the varsity roster. Derry lost 10 players to graduation last season when the Trojans finished 5-9 in Section 2-AAA play and 8-10 overall.
Despite the graduation losses, including all-section outfielder Blake Pakos and his .436 batting average, second-year coach John Flickinger is optimistic this year's team has the ability to improve on its win total — and perhaps make a splash as a surprise team in the section race.
The nucleus of the team will be four returning starters — senior pitcher Robby Hebenthal, juniors Zach Zimmerman (second base) and Like Ridilla (shortstop) and sophomore Cameron Gerhard (first base). Ridilla also was an all-section player last year.
“They each saw a considerable amount of playing time last year,” Flickinger said. “We also have a good number of guys, talent-wise, ready to contribute at the varsity level. We had a great offseason and the guys worked exceptionally hard.”
An immediate strength should be the team's pitching staff. Hebenthal returns at the top of the rotation, along with fellow senior Lucas Maloy and junior Connor Wege. Flickinger is also looking for Kyle Holmes, Latrobe's quarterback who is making a return to baseball after several years away, to booster the staff.
“Our pitchers have made big improvements,” Flickinger said. “They were very dedicated over the offseason. I'm expecting big things from guys like Wege and Holmes. Wege has really developed and got a lot stronger. Holmes has been a very nice surprise after being away. We've fine-tuned some things, but he has very good mechanics and natural ability.”
Derry also has an up-and-coming potential star in center fielder Johnny Panizzi. The 6-foot, 180-pound junior has started to blossom according to Flickinger.
“Johnny is a really solid all-around player,” he said. “He has great speed, strength and most importantly he really understands the game. I'm expecting him to have a breakout season, not only at the plate but also in the field.”
Flickinger said his players made great strides by participating in a fall league, where they were exposed to a higher level of competition he feels should have many of them prepared for their debuts at the varsity level.
“As a staff we're really just using the old cliché of taking things one play, one at-bat at a time,” he said. “I really think with our inexperience level on the varsity stage that the fall league and offseason work helped greatly. I didn't want the kids to have shell shock on this level. We have the talent, and this is an extremely smart baseball team. We just have to learn how to overcome adversity and take care of business.”
The Trojans open the season with tough tests against local rivals Ligonier Valley, Latrobe and Jeannette before starting section play.
“I don't know how many games we're going to win,” Flickinger said. “People see we lost 10 seniors so the expectations may not be high, but I really think this team could surprise a lot of people this year. We have to have a winning mentality and play to our ability level.”
Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.