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Northern suburbs baseball squads locked and loaded for playoff push

| Monday, May 13, 2013, 4:09 p.m.
Louis Raggiunti | Pine Creek Journal
Vincentian pitcher Ian Taylor.
Louis Raggiunti | Pine Creek Journal
Shaler's Sam Ireland, Justin Mazza and Matt Carter discuss strategy between plays.
Louis Raggiunti Pine Creek Journal
Hampton shortstop Troy Merigliano is always ready for the Talbots.

The baseball playoffs have arrived, and it's little surprise the area yielded co-section winners in Class AAAA with Shaler and Pine-Richland. Hampton swept the section, and the Vincentian team also qualified in Class A.

The playoffs are underway, and the Pine Creek Journal has put together a preview of each local squad.

Pine-Richland Rams

With a record of 8-2 in section and 15-4 overall, the Rams won a share of the section crown with Shaler. The Rams, winners of seven of their past 10 games, earned key victories against Shaler, Seneca Valley, Moon and Mars.

Players like center fielder Shane Heim, Jack Hudak, J.T. Riley, David Laylcok, Daane Berezo and ace pitcher Marcus Colella are just the beginning of what the co-section champions bring to the field.

Shaler Titans

The Titans earned a record of 8-2 in section play and a mark of 11-9 overall. The Titans scored wins over Pine-Richland, Moon and Plum and won five of their final 10 games.

The Titans will attack the playoff competition with ace pitcher Jake Potock and infielder Jim Hughes.

Shaler is a young team that may have surprised somewhat with a share of the section crown, but if the Titans have proved anything this season, it's that they can beat anyone.

“We are really excited about winning our first section title in 10 years,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said. “We had a great game rallying past Pine-Richland, and we are taking steps forward.”

Junker said one of the keys to winning in the playoffs will be rising pitcher Potock.

“Jake has done well, and if we can get the hitting going, we can play the small ball game.”

Potock said he usually starts the game slow before getting an out, and things tend to snowball from there.

“One thing we need is more energy in the dugout,” Potock said. “We need that, and it helps us in the field.”

Hughes is another player who really helped the cause season.

“You can't get too down on yourself,” Hughes said. “We got nine hits against Hampton, but not timely hits with runners on base.

“It was great to win the section title and share with a great team in Pine-Richland, but we are a good team … we are young but playing well together.”

Hampton Talbots

A squeaky clean 10-0 mark in section play gave the Talbots the section title outright. A record of 16-2 overall has Hampton thinking big with the playoffs in front of it.

Winners of nine of its past 10 games, including wins against playoff teams Mars, Shaler and Knoch, Hampton has a lethal one-two punch on the hill in Ben Vey and Joe Vita. With the option of two great pitchers, coach Matt Torrence can focus his attention elsewhere to sharpen his team.

“It has been good pitching for us, and our defense was exceptional (in the game against Shaler),” Torrence said. “I hope that all carries over to the playoffs.”

Torrence shared the sentiment of many other coaches in the tournament: Although he liked his team right now, on any day, a hot pitcher or bad bounce can derail you.

“We know the game, we are aggressive and have good fundamentals,” Torrence said. “We will be all right.”

Vita has committed to Washington & Jefferson to study and play baseball, but although he is excited about that decision, he won't look past the next game.

“I want to keep pitching well, and we have to keep playing solid defense,” Vita said. “We have to show up at the plate and play small ball.”

Senior second baseman Tommy Radzminski added that when Vita and Vey are on their game, the team can ride the staff to where it wants to be.

“When they have command, not many people get on base,” Radzminski said. “We are young but have to be confident at the plate. We are a hungry bunch of guys who want to show we can play ball and make the most of this opportunity.”

Vincentian Royals

The Royals are sporting a rather young team but nonetheless managed to play well in the section with a 7-3 record and a record of 12-5 overall. The Royals defeated Riverview and Sewickley Academy to prove they can compete with the contenders in Class A.

The quest will be difficult as a recent rash of injuries forced starting center fielder Ryan Wolfe from the lineup. Wolfe also was the leadoff hitter, a spot now filled in by Alex Madonna.

“We are going to have to clean things up and play error-free ball,” Vincentian coach Jay Fennell said. “We have been giving up too many walks and errors.”

With the injury to Wolfe and others, Fennell said the team is going to have to over achieve as the Royals will have to lean on starting pitchers Jay Cortese and Ian Taylor, two talented sophomores who give the team a chance each time out.

Kevin Fischer has stepped into the starting lineup to help the team.

Fennell knows how well his players have to play moving forward, but he made one thing clear: The team can succeed, but it has to play near-perfect baseball.

Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or jeclark@tribweb.com.

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