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Serra catcher Kugler turned himself into top hitter

| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Serra Catholic catcher Dylan Kugler is The Daily News Baseball Player of the Year.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Serra Catholic third baseman Parker Janosko (17), pitcher Brandon Coddinston and catcher Dylan Kugler confer at the mound against Clairton on Monday, April15, 2013, at Boston Field.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Serra Catholic catcher Dylan Kugler talks to umpire Gary Gallagher during a playoff game last month.

Dylan Kugler wasn't the most physically imposing player when he went out for baseball at Serra Catholic, but a lot has changed in the last three years.

“He's probably one of the hardest workers I ever had at Serra,” coach Brian Dzurenda said. “He came in as a small, undersized kid that went through a lot of private agility training and just developed into a fine physical specimen, put in all the time that people don't see and became one of the best hitters in the WPIAL.”

This season Kugler wasn't just one of the best; he was the best. The senior catcher and 2013 Daily News Baseball Player of the Year led the WPIAL in hitting with a .610 average and helped the Eagles to a 16-1 regular-season record and the No. 1 seed in the Class A playoffs. The Eagles (18-3) reached the WPIAL semifinals, losing to Western Beaver, and fell to California in the third-place consolation game.

“I just really thought about all the seasons I had previously and thought of better ways to approach the plate and prepared myself in the offseason for my senior year,” Kugler said. “I also think that catching is great for a hitter because you can see a two-seam or a four-seam fastball, or any type of pitch, and you'll know the umpire's strike zone so you know where to look for and hit the ball.”

Kugler showed he had a good idea what to do at the plate long before the start of this season. His signature high school moment came two years earlier in University Park.

During the 2011 state championship game against Reading Central Catholic, Kugler broke open a 1-0 game with an opposite-field RBI single in the top of the fifth that helped the Eagles to a 4-0 victory and their first PIAA Class A title.

“Not everyone in high school gets to experience a state championship, and I happened to be one of those lucky players that actually won,” Kugler said.

“In that state championship, he got the hit that broke Reading Central Catholic's back,” Dzurenda said. “He took the ball to right on an outside pitch, and I just remember him vividly standing at first base and smiling as well.”

Not only has Kugler excelled as a hitter over the last four years, he's also become a defensive standout who has developed a knack for working with Serra Catholic's pitchers. In addition, he's improved his arm strength and threw out more that 50 percent of would-be base stealers this season.

“You adjust to different pitchers and go by the way they work and how they approach the mound, how they like their pitches and the way they pitch. You have to figure out if they're having an off-day with their curveball or fastball, you have to figure it out before something bad happens,” Kugler said. “You just have to understand the pitcher like the pitcher understands the catcher.”

Even with all the improvements in his game, Kugler has another level to reach when he plays next season at St. Vincent.

“I think he needs to continue what he's done in the past, keeping his body in great shape and, he's a little bit of an undersized kid, but there's not an ounce of body fat on him,” Dzurenda said. “He just needs to devote himself to the strength and conditioning program and keep developing as a catcher.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kbarnes@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KBarnes_Trib.

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