Back in AA, East Allegheny baseball shoots for postseason
Ryan Encapera teaches social studies at East Allegheny, but the veteran baseball coach knows a thing or two about mathematics as well.
Encapera is a firm believer that addition by subtraction very well could equal something that hasn't happened at East Allegheny since the turn of the century: a playoff berth.
Ten boys pushed East Allegheny's enrollment into Triple-A the past two years, and the Wildcats took their lumps. EA won only seven of 28 Section 4-AAA games the past two seasons and finished last a year ago.
That's all changed.
East Allegheny got bumped back down to Section 4-AA where the bus trips are much shorter, the chances of winning are much bigger and the possibility of breaking a streak of 13 consecutive losing seasons is very realistic.
“This is where we belong,” Encapera said. “This is more of a rivalry now where we are at. Our kids know the kids from South Allegheny and Steel Valley from playing summer ball against each other. There is a little more at stake, but it is also on the same level of where we are.”
The Wildcats had difficulty competing with the likes of Hampton, Mars and Indiana mostly because of roster size.
“We would hang with them, but they had a lot more depth than us,” Encapera said. “Instead of having four or five good hitters, they'd have eight or nine, and we just couldn't consistently compete with that.”
Encapera admits that his team isn't as experienced as last year but does have talent to possibly make a run at the playoffs.
“Let's hope so,” Encapera said. “If it happens it is going to be because we hit. We work very hard on pitching and defense that keeps us in games.”
East Allegheny is led by senior pitcher/shortstop Adam Jacko.
Jacko hit .460 last year and struck out 36 in 33 innings. Jacko has started every game of his high school career and has batted better than .300 every season.
“He loves the game and has played a lot over the past couple years,” Encapera said. “We are going to rely on him a lot.”
Encapera has a handful of others returning with experience.
Ryan Kearns, a 6-foot-5 senior three-year starter, will be at first and will provide EA with some pop.
“He is one of our better hitters, and he has a lot of power,” Encapera said. “He is a monster. If he is more consistent, that will help us out.”
Also set to contribute are catcher Ryan Coles, infielder Tanner Link, outfielders Jordan Loya and Jason Henshawe and third baseman Martel Crosby.
Jacko, Link, Mason Pfeiffer, Justin Harner and Matt Smith will see time on the mound.
“I think we will battle and be in the middle of the pack,” Encapera said. “If we can win games that we are supposed to and steal one here and there, I think the playoffs are attainable.”
Shady Side Academy and Greensburg Central Catholic are perennial playoff teams out of Section 4-AA, leaving East Allegheny little room for error if the Wildcats want to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999 — the same year they last won a section title.
“I like our chances of facing this competition compared to what we were facing,” Encapera said. “Had we been in this section the past two years, we might have a good shot.”
East Allegheny will open section play April 3 at Steel Valley.