Southern trip paying off for Mars baseball team

| Saturday, April 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Mars baseball team was happy to get out and practice on an actual baseball field.

Only, the Planets had to travel approximately 550 miles — one way — to do it.

Mars wrapped up its annual trip to Columbia, S.C. last weekend. And, once again it was a positive experience for the team's players and coaches.

“Especially with the way the weather was in March, it was real good to go down there and get outside,” Mars coach Brian Hobaugh said. “The weather was kind of chilly down there. Normally, it's in the 70s and 80s, but it was like in the 50s and 60s. Compared to what we had up here, though, it was really nice.”

Other than the “colder” temperatures, the weather was fine and the Planets played three varsity games and three junior varsity contests.

“It was an awesome trip. It gave our kids a good chance to get at it. I know they were excited about it,” Hobaugh said. “We got to look at a lot of people in different situations, too. That trip is very beneficial to us every year. It helps us to get jump-started for the season up here.”

Mars has made the trip every year since 2003. The team loaded onto a charter bus on March 25 and made the long drive overnight to Columbia. They traveled a short distance across town to Heathwood Hall Episcopal School for a practice the next day.

“We practice at their field every year, and it's a very nice facility,” Hobaugh said. “They are just really nice people down there, and it was really nice to get out and do some things on the field that we needed to do.”

“It's like that first day on vacation when you go to the beach and are ecstatic and jumping in the water,” he continued. “We got to the field and the sun's out and feels good on your neck and arms.”

Mars' first game was against Heathwood Hall, and the Planets rolled to a 9-0 victory. The team followed that with a day/night doubleheader, trekking an hour south to play Orangeburg Prep in the afternoon and then making another short drive to play Calhoun Academy at night.

The Planets dropped an 11-10 decision in nine innings to Orangeburg Prep, but followed with a 9-4 win over Calhoun Academy. Mars (2-1) returned home March 29.

“We should have gone 3-0. We were up 4-0 on Orangeburg. We played a lot of people down there. We felt like we could have won and should have won, but we wanted to see what some people could do,” Hobaugh said.

“The trip is kind of like our spring training. We had a game plan to pitch certain people certain innings no matter what. But it's good to see people play.”

Hobaugh was pleased with his hitters.

“We got a lot of at-bats,” he said. “The second game went nine innings, so we played a total of 23 innings down there. We have a lot of guys who got well over 10 at-bats down there.

“We hit the ball real well. I am surprised at how well we hit in those three games. Usually, we're slower with the bats to start and the pitchers are on top of it. But we scored a lot of runs and did well.

“Sam Swiatek had two home runs there and Matt Eperesi and Connor McGinnis probably had five or six hits. Dave Bednar had two or three hits in the first game,” he said. “A lot of our kids hit well.”

Mars' junior varsity team enjoyed success, too, with wins over Lee Academy, 13-8; Heathwood Hall, 12-1; and Orangeburg Prep, 10-6.

“It's always a good team bonding trip, too. The kids really enjoy going down there,” Hobaugh said. “We are together for three days straight. It's good for team chemistry, no question.”

The early start was huge for the Planets, who are looking to defend their WPIAL Section 4-AAA title. That is, if they can get back out on a field for a regular basis.

“You come back and you're ready to go and then you get the weather we have, and you're sitting around and practicing indoors again. That's the hard part,” Hobaugh said. “You get all pumped up and then have to sit, sit, sit and wait. It's really hard to stay on the same emotional plane. It's all good, though. We'll be ready.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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