South Park needs to follow up with title after historic regular season
South Park's Nick Yobbi enjoyed the baseball program's milestones in 2013. The Eagles had their first unbeaten regular season while becoming the only team in school history with 20 wins.
“But going undefeated wasn't really a big goal of ours,” said Yobbi, a four-year starter and the team's leading hitter.
He and his teammates would rather celebrate a playoff victory.
They ultimately want a string of postseason wins in the next couple weeks, but they'll start with one — something this veteran group has yet to accomplish and a point their coach hasn't let them forget.
“They're probably tired of me saying it, but they haven't won anything yet,” South Park coach Steve Bucci said. “They don't have any playoff wins to their name. That should be a motivational factor in itself.”
This year, they seem poised to address the issue. For the seven seniors in South Park's lineup — including the five who are four-year starters — it's their last chance. After missing the playoffs as freshmen and sophomores, they lost to Greensburg Salem in last year's first round.
If another season ended without a playoff run, “it would be a disappointment, for sure,” Bucci said. This year, though, they enter as favorites.
As the only unbeaten in Class AAA, South Park (20-0) was seeded No. 1 in the WPIAL playoff brackets that were released Thursday — just ahead of three-loss Hopewell and two-loss Hampton. South Park could become the third undefeated Class AAA champion in the past seven seasons, joining Elizabeth Forward (21-0 in 2011) and West Allegheny (23-0 in 2007).
“After all that we put into the regular season, I really want WPIAL and state championships,” Yobbi said. “I don't want anything short of that goal.”
When the playoffs begin Monday, South Park will face Yough in the first round. The two met May 3 in a nonsection game that South Park won, 16-6.
Another win would give the Eagles their first playoff victory since 2005, which was during Bucci's first stint as coach. This season is the third of his second stint.
During Bucci's first seven-year stay (2000-06), the Eagles were 103-50 and reached the WPIAL title game in 2002. In the four years he was gone, South Park was 28-44, during which Bucci won a state title at Canon-McMillan.
In his three years back, South Park has won eight, 15 and now 20 games, returning excitement to the program. The team also won a section title this year for the first time since 2005.
“Obviously, it's huge for everybody,” Bucci said. “It's huge for a baseball program that has struggled a little bit the last few years. It's good for the younger kids to see some winning baseball. It's good morale for the kids in the school. And we've had more fans than I'd ever seen in a season. It's been crazy.”
The success has been built around an experienced senior class. The four-year starters are outfielder Randy Dobnak, second baseman Carter Grote, catcher Justin Dilla, shortstop Cris Winkler and Yobbi, an outfielder.
Pitching has been key, with three senior starters all committed to colleges. Dobnak (6-0, 1.75 ERA), an Alderson-Broaddus recruit; Yobbi (5-0, 0.61 ERA), a South Carolina-Aiken recruit and senior left-hander Jake Bywalski (5-0, 0.94 ERA), a Concord recruit, have combined for 134 strikeouts in 96 innings. In their 12 section games, only three times did an opponent score more than two runs. And none scored more than five.
In contrast, South Park scored at least nine runs in 14 of its 20 games. Five players are batting better than .350, led by Yobbi, who has a .535 average and 26 RBI. The others are Dilla (.472), Winkler (.459), first baseman Shane Fetsko (.453), Grote (.417), Bywalski (.382) and Dobnak (.351). Winkler leads with 32 RBI.
“We pitch well, our defense has been pretty solid throughout the whole season and we've had some games where we really put some runs up,” Bucci said.
Yet the unbeaten Eagles aren't expecting the WPIAL to simply declare them winners.
“Just because you're the No. 1 seed doesn't mean you're going to be the champion,” Bucci said. “There are no guarantees. These other teams who qualified could care less what our (regular-season) record was.”