Penn-Trafford baseball finding top form

Doug Gulasy
| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Shortly after the Penn-Trafford baseball team's 7-0 shutout of Norwin last Thursday, coach Ron Evans took a moment to contemplate the Warriors' only mistake from the game.

With the bases loaded and nobody out in the third inning, Evans called for a suicide squeeze from senior Dom Disso. Disso popped the bunt up to the Norwin first baseman, who turned it into an easy double play.

“That was probably my fault for calling it,” Evans said, adding he should have let Disso hit away in that situation.

The veteran coach could afford to make one error in judgment in that game as the Warriors turned in an otherwise flawless performance in dispatching the rival Knights to move into a tie for second place in Section 2-AAAA.

Junior Tyler Smith shut down Norwin from the mound, yielding four hits and striking out 10 in a complete-game victory. He also had a big day at the plate, contributing three hits and three runs batted in to Penn-Trafford's attack.

“He totally manhandled Norwin,” Evans said. “When he's on, he's tough to beat.”

Midway through the season, it appears as though Penn-Trafford is finding its form. The Warriors had won five straight games, outscoring their opponents, 50-15, heading into a nonsection game Tuesday against Gateway. The game ended past the deadline for this week's edition.

The Warriors (7-4, 5-2) can point to Smith as a key reason for their recent success. The junior followed up his dominant performance against Norwin with another one Monday against Kiski, striking out 13 Cavaliers in a 2-0 victory.

For the season, Smith is 4-1 with a 1.01 earned-run average. He has 44 strikeouts in 27 23 innings and is batting .316 in section play.

“I had extremely solid defense behind me (against Norwin),” Smith said. “Hats off to them. There were some huge plays made in the field, keeping runners from advancing and things of that nature. We obviously put the bats together. You obviously don't score seven runs on the mound.”

Perhaps most impressively, Smith is turning up his game in the absence of fellow pitcher Ross Orgera, who separated his shoulder in an all-terrain vehicle accident last week. The second part of Penn-Trafford's 1-2 punch, Orgera has a 4.08 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 12 innings this season.

Evans said he hoped to get Orgera back on the mound by the end of this week.

“My arm will feel a lot nicer (when Orgera returns),” Smith said. “In all honesty, it's going to be a relief to have another great pitcher coming back. It's obviously been tough not having him out here because as everybody knows, he's our ace in the hole.”

In compiling the winning streak, Penn-Trafford is playing some of its best baseball of the season.

In their 2-4 start, the Warriors lost twice by one run and another time by two runs. The team blew a late lead against Hempfield, committing three late errors and losing in the ninth inning.

But against Norwin, the Warriors pounded out 13 hits as a team, including three each by Smith and sophomore Luke Smeltz.

The team didn't commit an error defensively, and freshman Josh Brammell threw Norwin's J.J. Matijevic out at the plate on a would-be sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.

“We're just having fun again,” Smith said of the team's turnaround. “At the beginning of the year, we were all playing real tight.

“We have a couple starters that haven't been varsity players in the past. We're an extremely young team and that showed in the beginning of the year, but everybody's stepping up to the plate (now). They're making the plays (and) hitting the ball.”

More important to Penn-Trafford than the winning streak was what the streak did for the Warriors' playoff hopes. By beating Norwin and Kiski, the Warriors moved into second place in the section — one game ahead of third-place Norwin and Latrobe..

Penn-Trafford will play Norwin, Connellsville and Latrobe one more time each this season.

But the biggest game will come Friday, when the Warriors will host Hempfield (9-2, 6-1) at 4 p.m. in a rematch of that earlier loss.

Friday's game could be a contest for first place in the section. Hempfield played a game Wednesday against Connellsville. That game ended past the deadline for this edition.

“Obviously, we're shooting for first,” Smith said. “This is obviously an extremely tough section to play in. All of the teams are extremely good teams.

“(Friday's game is) kind of a grudge match from earlier this year.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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