Bishop Canevin baseball ready for return to Class A
High expectations were placed on the Bishop Canevin baseball team heading into the season. Many picked the Crusaders to be a top team in Class A, including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ranking them second.
But coach Dale Checketts had a simple message for his team: You haven't earned anything yet.
“At this point, it is about how bad do you want to get out there and take care of business and earn what they're saying you should do?” Checketts said. “Early in the season, I would prefer to be under the radar, especially with a younger team.”
Bishop Canevin has only four seniors on the roster, and only two of those will work their way into the pitching rotation.
“We lost three starting pitchers from last year,” Checketts said. “We are turning to younger guys who have been working hard in the system. We have been focused during the winter on attacking the strike zone.”
Seniors Nico DiPaolo — who saw innings on the mound last season — and Jay Joseph will be the leaders of the youthful pitching staff that also will feature juniors Christian Tutsock and Cameron Kohan along with sophomore Mitchell Tauffer.
“We will need the younger guys to step up and throw some good innings,” DiPaolo said. “We need them to throw strikes. It is what we have been working on a lot.”
Checketts said Bishop Canevin can use as many as seven players on the mound, which will come in handy during some of the three-game weeks the team has ahead of it.
“You might have a horse who can get you through one game, but you still have two or even three games the same week,” Checketts said.
Whoever is on the mound will be backed by a strong defense. Senior Jim Dlugos returns to first base, and DiPaolo will be able to play shortstop and third base when not pitching. Senior Jimmy Canton returns for his third season in the outfield.
But the Crusaders will need some new faces to step up if they hope to reach their second straight postseason. Tauffer will be used on the left side of the infield, and Joseph, Tutsock and junior Mark Szymanski will solidify the outfield.
“(Junior) Johnny O'Donnell hit a growth spurt during the offseason,” Checketts said. “Hopefully he can take the next step and solidify us at second base.”
The freshmen who will see time on the field are Justin Dix, Austin Liebro and Sam Smallhoover.
Batting is still a work in progress. The Crusaders' first four games of the season were postponed due to weather, and the team was forced to practice in the gym.
“To this point, the seniors have worked hard so far and set the example by attacking the ball in the cage,” Checketts said. “We will rely on the track record of the seniors to put the ball in play.”
While the team was regulated to the batting cages for a month, the Crusaders are confident they will be able to find hits they need to stay in games.
“From top to bottom, we should be able to put the ball in play this year,” Canton said. “That will be big with some of the younger pitchers we have.”
The Crusaders dropped to Section 2-A after calling Class AA home for the past six seasons. The new section slate will feature Clairton, Frazier, Geibel, Monessen and Serra Catholic.
“We have played Geibel, so we understand what they bring to the field,” Checketts said. “Serra, with its tradition, will be well coached and ready to play. And Clairton bit some people as last season went on.”
While the move presents new challenges against some strong teams, the history Bishop Canevin had against its Class AA opponents will be missed. The team will no longer have its rivalry games with Seton-La Salle, South Fayette and Carlynton.
“Carlynton is the big one,” Dlugos said. “It will be new to all of us. There will be new fields and new competition. It will be different but still be good.”
Despite the move, Bishop Canevin is focused on finding success this season. The Crusaders enter the season with lofty goals despite coming in with a target on their backs.
“Our first goal is to win the section title,” Canton said. “We'll play on from there. The seniors want to keep winning and go out on a high note.”
Bishop Canevin fell in its season opener last week to Our Lady of Sacred Heart, 9-3. The Chargers are the No. 1-ranked team in the Tribune-Review's Class A rankings.
The Crusaders fell behind, 2-1, in the first inning but battled back to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the third. But OLSH scored four runs in the bottom of the third to take a lead it did not surrender. Tauffer recorded the loss on the mound for Bishop Canevin. Tutsock had a double for the Crusaders, who had seven hits.
Bishop Canevin returns to the field tomorrow, Friday, as it travels to Geibel in Section 2-A action. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-388-5813.