Greensburg Salem baseball trying to replace nine graduates

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

A year ago, long-time Greensburg Salem baseball coach Jim Stewart was heading into the season with an experienced, deep team. Expectations were high.

The Lions, with nine seniors, rolled to an 11-3 finish in Section 2-AAA and a 15-5-1 overall record before dropping a heart-breaking 2-1 decision to Hopewell in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

This season, however, things are a bit different — and slightly unclear. Stewart's expectations haven't changed for his successful program, but Greensburg Salem is starting things off with new faces and new starters on the varsity team.

“This is a relatively new team,” Stewart said. “We lost a lot of really good ballplayers. But we also have some coming back and some ready to step up to take those spots.”

Stewart will turn to three players to take leadership roles and anchor the team. All played key roles as sophomores and are game-tested.

Juniors Greg Neumann, Max Ponzurick and Patrick Boyer are expected to help the Lions make a clean, quick transition. Neumann and Ponzurick are expected to make position changes from last season to help make use of the team's strengths.

Neumann, who played in the outfield as a sophomore, will shift to catcher. He also will be counted on to be one of the top bats for the Lions this spring after hitting .444 last season with 19 RBI.

“He really stepped up last season,” Stewart said. “He's worked hard over the offseason and should continue to improve this season.”

Boyer, an imposing pitcher at 6-foot-5 who pitched in the team's playoff loss last season against Hopewell, should anchor the staff and also get time at third base.

“He pitched a great game for us in the playoff loss,” Stewart said. “It was very impressive for an underclassman in that spot. He really pitched great. He's very imposing with his size. Out on the mound, he looks like he's about 6-foot-8. He's got huge hands and hides the ball well. He has a good confidence level and nice mix of pitches. I'm expecting him to have a strong season.”

Ponzurick, who played third base last season, will shift to shortstop. He was one of the Lions' top offensive weapons a year ago, hitting .472 with two home runs and more than 20 RBI. He also will help with the pitching duties.

“Max had a very successful season,” Stewart said. “He's a great hitter and all-around player.”

Having a young but relatively deep pitching staff should help the Lions as the weather gets warmer and teams are forced to play several games a week because of early season postponements.

Stewart is confident his team can be successful in an always-challenging section.

“Top to bottom, this will again be a very competitive league,” he said. “I'm expecting Mt. Pleasant to be very good. Elizabeth Forward is always good. Laurel Highlands is back with us and Indiana has a strong program year in and year out. There are a number of teams that will be strong. We're going to have our hands full.”

The Lions should learn a lot about their new-look team quickly. Greensburg Salem put together a grueling nonsection schedule that includes rivals Greensburg Central Catholic, Hempfield, Belle Vernon and Connellsville, in addition to non-WPIAL members Ligonier Valley and The Kiski School.

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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