Weather, other factors delay spring sports

| Friday, March 7, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Nobody told Mother Nature that it was time for the spring season.

With baseball and softball practices permitted to kick off this week, local high school coaches are battling the excess snow and prolonged winter forecasts that have kept them off the field for longer than usual.

“You gotta be creative,” new Belle Vernon Area baseball coach Daryl Hixenbaugh said. “We are in a little better position than most with the warehouse (where the team can work indoors). That being said, this is the first time that I can remember where we haven't been outside at least on a parking lot by this point. We have a scrimmage Thursday weather permitting, and that might be our first time on the field.”

Monessen baseball coach Bill Matush downplayed the affect the weather has been having on practices, and instead focused on other factors.

“Nothing unusual really,” Matush said. “We're normally inside at this time because the fields are too wet to really do much on any other year, but this year they are still frozen. It's my 12th year coaching and really we don't get outside until the second or third week of March. So right now it's not a huge deal.

“But right now we aren't doing anything different from any other year. Bigger issue is the basketball team is still playing, but again, we're pretty used to guys still playing late into the spring.”

The Monessen's boys' basketball team has made a habit of qualifying for the state playoffs, delaying the start of the baseball season for players on both teams.

“For the position players on the team, it shouldn't be too hard to get them caught back up,” Matush said. “But two of our better pitchers – Justice Rawlins and Brandon Lenhart – are still playing basketball and it might take a little longer to get their arms back in shape and ready to throw.”

The prolonged basketball season also brings about scheduling issues when two and sometimes three teams are vying to use the gymnasium and the team playing for a state title gets obvious first choice.

“Because our girls basketball team qualified for the state playoffs, we've had a little gym time but we haven't been able to put nets up or anything,” new California baseball coach Nick Damico said. “So we haven't been able to get together for many solid practices yet. We've only had two practices because of the weather and we're supposed to open up March 21, but this is something every team has had to deal with. So it is what it is.”

All of the coaches agreed that a little bit of time inside at the beginning of the season is beneficial to work everybody back into shape, but they disagreed on the length of time it took for these advantages to fade.

“Being inside this much kind of levels the playing field,” Monessen softball coach Bo Teets said. “Everybody only has so much space and resources inside. But what it lets us do is focus on some individual technique that might be lost outside, where we would focus more on the overall team aspect and practices. So in a way, this is an advantage – that we have had an opportunity to work on the little things and get them down before we move on working outside.”

“It hasn't affected us that much yet. We've been doing open gyms for a while and this is really the first week,” Charleroi baseball coach Luke Mollis said. “Being in western Pennsylvania, if there wasn't snow on the ground the field would be soaked through because of the rain and we probably wouldn't be able to practice on it much anyway. But the good thing about being inside is it gives us an opportunity to really pound the basics. We are a young team and we need to really focus on the fundamentals, and this is giving us that opportunity.”

BVA's Hixenbaugh disagreed.

“There are absolutely no advantages at this point,” Hixenbaugh said. “We've been inside long enough. The kids want to go out and see what they have been working for all winter. They have cabin fever, the coaches have cabin fever and even the parents have a bit of cabin fever as well.”

But some coaches, like BVA softball coach Tom Rodriguez, aren't focused on what has happened and are worried about the coming weeks.

“The weather is just something you have to deal with,” he said. “We're lucky in that we have a solid place to practice, so we've been getting our work in. But Saturday it's supposed to be in the high 40s so were planning on heading down to the stadium for some outside work. Everybody has been stuck inside. We just need to focus on getting the outside work when we can.”

Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer.

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