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Franklin Regional baseball team looks ahead after successful season

Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Franklin Regional's Patrick Kukalis is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run against Plum on Friday, May 3, 2013, at Plum High School.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Franklin Regional baseball team begins each season with the primary goal of winning its section.

That goal won't change next year after a successful 2012 campaign that saw the Panthers finish in second place in Section 3-AAAA and qualify for the WPIAL playoffs for the second straight season.

Franklin Regional (16-4) lost, 6-3, to Bethel Park in the first round.

“It's been quite a few years since Franklin Regional has had an opportunity to (win the section),” coach Bobby Saddler said. “I think once again we took strides in doing so this past year. We finished 8-2 (in the section), and we were able to defeat every single section opponent.

“We were able to beat Central Catholic (and) beat Plum, teams we know we have to take care of if we want to win a section title.”

Franklin Regional last won a section title in 2006. To end that drought next season, the Panthers will have to replace seniors Nick DiDiano, Connor Fitzmaurice, Danny McGrath and Nick Vento.

McGrath and Vento led the team in batting this season, batting .533 and .484, respectively, while DiDiano was 5-3 with a 3.00 earned-run average on the mound.

Rising senior Brett Myers (4-1, 4.14 ERA) and junior-to-be Justin Johnson (4-0, 2.66) look to anchor the pitching staff next season, and Saddler said he expected Luchiano Besh and Alex Gessinger to also step forward.

“Who's going to take over the No. 1 job is anyone's guess,” Saddler said. “I'm very confident, though, that one of those guys will work very hard in the summer, fall and in the weight room, and they'll seize their opportunity. I'm not opposed to having all four of those guys be No. 1 pitchers.”

Offensively, John Bondi will return for his junior season after batting .481 this spring. He'll be joined by rising seniors Brandon Nania (.390, four home runs, 24 runs batted in), Patrick Kukalis (.377, 17 RBIs) and Myers (.354, 16 RBIs).

Saddler said he expects the players will work this summer and into the fall and winter to improve.

“They understand that baseball can't just be a one-season sport if we want to achieve the goals we set out to achieve this year,” he said. “We fell a little bit short this year, but I think with the amount of buy-in we're getting from the players, those goals aren't out of the question here in the near future.”

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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