WPIAL's junior class of baseball prospects getting plenty of college attention

| Monday, March 25, 2013, 11:08 p.m.

The wintry weather that's hanging on in the area is a reminder of just how difficult it is early in the year to showcase your talents as a high school baseball player in the northeast.

It takes a while, sometimes, for players here to return to the field.

“Do I want to get my first impression of a player in 33-degree weather?” asked one area major league scout.

Western Pennsylvania teams seem to find ways to get it done, though, and while the start of the 2013 high school season is on hold, the WPIAL senior class already has been producing its share of college commitments.

The junior class is not far behind.

“The junior class might be a better group than the seniors this year,” said Seton Hill University coach Marc Marizzaldi, whose NCAA Division II team is ranked No. 16 nationally and No. 2 in the Atlantic Region by D2baseballnews.com.

The prospects are many, but perhaps none are more visible than pitcher/outfielder Brendan McKay of Blackhawk and shortstop J.J. Matijevic of Norwin.

Both are versatile players with good size — and two years of high school eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Matijevic, who batted .486 with six home runs and 35 RBI for Norwin in 2012, has made a commitment to play at Arizona.

The 6-2, 210-pound McKay is being recruited by Kentucky, Louisville and Wake Forest, among others. On the mound, the lefthander posted a 9-1 record with a 0.52 ERA in 81 innings with 98 strikeouts, 12 walks and three saves. At the plate, McKay hit .400 with two home runs, 10 doubles and 22 RBI.

“Brendan has got unbelievable ability,” Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said. “If he keeps his head on straight, the sky's the limit. Most schools are recruiting him to pitch and play another position. He's got a strong bat. He hit one 400 feet off the building in an intersquad game.”

As a freshman in 2011, McKay was 6-0 with a 0.88 ERA in 48 innings, striking out 57 and walking 12, and batted .480 with two home runs and 20 RBI.

“He's gotten bigger,” Amalia said. “He was throwing consistently around 81 (mph) last year, but he's up to 86-87 in live sessions this year.”

Other players to watch from the Class of 2014 include shortstop Cody Bain, catcher Jake Emge and pitcher/outfielder Rich Rowe of Blackhawk; third baseman/pitcher Ronnie Baron of California; outfielder John Beveridge and pitcher/outfielder Taylor Lehman of Keystone Oaks; infielder Dave Boehme of Seton-La Salle; and pitcher Patrick Boyer and third baseman Max Ponzurick of Greensburg Salem.

Also, outfielder Joey DeFloria of Hempfield; pitcher/outfielder Noah Smith of Norwin; outfielder Luca Farina of Central Catholic; pitcher/third baseman Steve Helmici of Mt. Lebanon; catcher Parker Lynn of Belle Vernon; pitcher/outfielder Mitchell Machi of North Allegheny; pitcher Shane Martin of Hopewell; and first baseman/outfielder Chaz Phillips of Albert Gallatin.

“There's so many showcases throughout the year,” Amalia said. “I always say that your team's success leads to individual glory. As a coach, you do what you can, but the players are the ones who perform.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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