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Belle Vernon Area's Francia making up for lost time

| Monday, April 22, 2013, 12:41 a.m.
Aubrey Holliday / For the Valley Independent
Belle Vernon Area's Dom Francia verbally committed to attend the University of Buffalo to play baseball.

Belle Vernon Area's Dom Francia was supposed to be sidelined for most of last baseball season.

But after breaking his ankle playing basketball last winter, Francia rehabbed and ended up missing only six games – and in the process – not only sharpened his work ethic, but his appreciation for the game.

“A blessing in disguise is definitely something you could call it,” Francia said of the injury. “You get to a point where you're broken down and completely work yourself back to where you were and then-some. I blitzed my physical therapy, mobility and strength exercises.”

The toil from last year is paying exponential dividends as Francia currently sits at the top of the WPIAL with four home runs and 23 RBI. The senior catcher is closing in on the school records in both categories as he's still making up for lost time in 2012.

“My leg was so thin when they took the cast off, I was definitely not 100 percent,” he said, “but that's another reason I'm coming out making up for the lack of what I did last year.”

BVA coach Dan Palm has witnessed a physical change in Francia from last season as his catcher packed on lean muscle.

“We didn't expect to have him until the playoffs (last year) and he only missed six games,” Palm said. “Once he got through the season, he would go every day and lift on his own and you could tell a difference with him physically our offseason conditioning program at the end of January. Just by looking at him, we were confident he was going to have a big year ahead.”

Francia – who boasts a smooth, uppercut swing – is currently batting .474 for BVA. Batting cleanup, he's sandwiched between fellow seniors Adam Ferita and Joe Simsic, who are hitting .500 each.

Ferita, last year's section MVP, leads the Leopards with five doubles while Simsic has rapped a team-best 19 hits. The trio has combined for 44 hits, 42 RBI, 12 doubles and 33 runs.

“It's just an incredible heart of the lineup … we've pretty much had the same lineup intact for the past three seasons,” BVA coach Dan Palm said. “The best thing about Dom is he's only struck out three times in 36 at bats, so he's not over-swinging.”

Francia has come a long way since transferring from the Monessen school district four years ago.

“Being from Donora, I know that it's different from growing up in Belle Vernon (Area) … you're cut a little more rough,” Palm said, laughing. “Dom has that edge to him, but I love him.”

Francia said he's receiving interest from several NCAA Division-I schools, including West Virginia University, Longwood (Virginia), University of Buffalo and Rider University.

After not catching for BVA in 2012, Francia is back behind the plate where he's a defensive asset as well. His throw to second – called a “pop” – has been clocked at 1.83 seconds.

“I love being behind the dish,” he said. “Every single game, whatever it takes from me, I'll do for my teammates in any situation. I'm a very competitive person. If I have to push us through a rough patch, so be it.”

The WPIAL Class AAA runner-ups last season, BVA (8-4, 4-2) is hitting its offensive stride despite earlier section losses to No. 2-ranked South Park and Thomas Jefferson.

“We have a really great bond and great team chemistry. We're always hanging out together,” Francia said. “There are just a few little bumps to overcome, like confidence in the field and at the plate. Once everyone finds that groove and finds the rhythm, there are no limitations to what this team can do talent-wise.”

A power pitcher, Francia has a fastball that reaches the mid-to-high 80s, but has not been medically cleared to return to the mound. If that happens, it gives the Leopards a valuable weapon.

“We are a WPIAL favorite if he's pitching,” Palm said, matter-of-factly. “He has a Division-I swing and Division-I arm and he's a bulldog in every phase of the game.”

Palm noted Francia closed out last year with a 17-game hitting streak.

“Dom's a streaky hitter, but once he gets hot, it doesn't stop,” Palm added. “His sophomore year, he literally started the season batting .048 before he started hitting to the opposite field. He hit over .600 the rest of the year.”

Francia said he's simply enjoying the ride – and not taking anything for granted after last year's injury.

“I just feel like I missed out a little on last year, so I had to come out this year and show people what hard work really does,” he said.

“I'd say the key to my success is a lot of extra time in the cage and a really positive attitude to play every game like it's your last because you never know what's going to happen. I'm looking for the results I know I can produce and I don't plan on stopping.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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