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Califorina - File photo Don Hartman,Califorina head baseball coach.
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Friday, March 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

There is good news and bad news for California Area baseball fans this season.

The bad news is five starters are gone from last season's 19-2 team that reached the WPIAL Class A championship game before bowing to Neshannock.

Four of those starters, T.D. Conway, Matt Luketich, Pat Tunney and Sean Cotton, were big reasons why the Trojans went 56-11 the last three seasons and reached at least the WPIAL semifinals and the PIAA playoffs all three years.

“I'd say we are more in a rebuilding mode,” said veteran California coach Don Hartman. “We lost an awful lot of talent and experience from last year's team. We lost our top pitcher, our leadership and pretty much all of our power with that group.”

The good news is that the Trojans welcome back a nucleus that includes four returning starters (shortstop Josh Luko, third baseman Ron Barron, catcher Jake Columbus and left fielder Mike Luketich) and another player (center fielder Aaron Previsky) who spot started last season.

“I have some guys who have played at a high level, know the tradition and what it takes here,” said Hartman. “I also have seven kids who can pitch, which is a plus. Not all of them have experience, but they are arms.

“I'm just hoping that my juniors step up and account for the power that we lost.”

Luketich, a junior, hit .417 last season while Columbus, a sophomore, hit .404. Barron hit .357 and Luko hit .333.

Luko, as the No. 2 pitcher behind Conway, was 6-0 on the mound in 2012.

New to the lineup for California will be sophomore Chris Swartz at first base, junior Mitch Niccolai or freshman Louden Conte at second and either Conte or junior Joey DeFranco in right field.

Previsky will settle into the center field slot and Conte, the son of California University baseball coach Mike Conte, will also see time at short and third, depending on who is pitching for the Trojans.

Luko and Barron will head a deep pitching staff that Hartman said will also include Conte, senior Brian Fisher and Previsky.

California, which is 2-1 after a tough 4-3 exhibition loss to Serra and lopsided wins over Charleroi and Monessen, will be tested early as the Trojans visit WPIAL champ Neshannock Saturday for another non-section game.

California will compete in Section 1 A with Jefferson-Morgan, Carmichaels, Avella, Mapletown and West Greene.

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or joliver@tribweb.com.

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