Connellsville grad anxious to continue baseball success at Cal HS
Nick Damico is no stranger to successful baseball. The 1999 Connellsville High School graduate has spent the past six seasons as the pitching coach at California High School, where he has helped the Trojans regularly contend for WPIAL championships.
Now, Damico will be tasked with enhancing the California program after being named the Trojans' head coach earlier this month.
“California is the dream job to have as a coach because not only do you have great players to work with, but you have the community backing you,” Damico said.
Damico replaces longtime coach Don Hartman, who resigned after a 20-6 season in 2013. Hartman coached California for 23 seasons, guiding the Trojans to nine section championships and two WPIAL titles.
Damico understands the high expectations that surround the team year after year, and he's looking forward to meeting those expectations.
“Representing the community as the head coach of Cal is a challenge I'm not only excited about, but can't wait for,” Damico said.
Damico inherits a strong team. Only one starter (pitching ace Brian Fisher) graduated from last year's team.
“The goal right now is to win our section, which will take a lot of offseason preparation,” Damico said. “But I think the players are going to play their hearts out to try to do it.”
Damico no doubt will lean on the lessons he learned while playing 10 years for Bud Murphy's in the Fayette County Baseball League.
Those Bud Murphy's squads were coached by Tom Sankovich, who was a longtime coach at Connellsville High School and led the Falcons to a state championship in 1989. Damico credits Sankovich for much of his own success in baseball.
“Playing for Tom was not only a blessing for me as a pitcher, but he also brought the best out in me as a person,” Damico said. “Tom had a competitive drive like no other, something that needs instilled to young ballplayers.
“I returned all the knowledge he gave me by giving him everything I had for 10 years. He was the best coach I ever had.”
Damico also credited his father with teaching him to never quit and to be tough and aggressive. He added that his parents (Pete and Cindy) have been constant supporters of his baseball career.
During his time with Bud Murphy's, Damico helped the Cokers win six championships. He was the FCBL Pitcher of the Year five times and posted a career record of 86-25 with a 2.28 ERA. He pitched 73 complete games, recording 693 strikeouts, 202 walks, seven saves and 16 shutouts in 713 innings pitched.
At Connellsville, Damico earned first-team all-section honors in 1999 and was a second-team all-section selection in 1998. His ERA was 1.96.
After high school, Damico went on to have a standout career at California University (Pa.). He ranks in the top five all-time in the program's history in wins, saves and appearances. He helped the Vulcans win two PSAC West titles and, in 2004, earned All-PSAC pitching honors as the Vulcans won the PSAC state championship.
Although Damico realizes Hartman left the team in excellent shape, he acknowledged there is one thing he would like to see the Trojans improve upon this season.
“We want to focus on more power,” Damico said. “In 26 games last year, we hit no home runs. We've been hitting the weight room pretty hard.”
Damico's familiarity with the team should prove advantageous.
“I know all the players well, and they know me and what approaches and strategies I take to the game,” Damico said. “I'm positive the kids will continue to be successful and enjoy their playing experience. There is going to be ... a huge emphasis on solid pitching, great defense and quality at-bats.”
Those were hallmarks of many of Sankovich's teams, and according to Sankovich, there is little doubt Damico will achieve success in his new position.
“Nick knows the game, and he is very good at communicating with young kids,” Sankovich said. “He is the kind of man that commands respect, and he's always been a gamer. I think Nick will do very well.”
Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.