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Penn-Trafford baseball team banks on experience

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 6:33 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norw
Penn-Trafford junior Tyler Smith pitches in a game against Norwin Thursday, April 18, 2013, at Norwin High School. The Warriors beat the Knights, 7-0.

For the second straight year, the Penn-Trafford baseball team will take a young roster into the regular season.

Unlike last season, however, that youth also includes plenty of experience. The Warriors return more than 10 players who gained playing time last season, including seven who started in the team's postseason game against Pittsburgh Central Catholic.

“Some kids get overwhelmed when they get to the playoffs, just (from) the playoff experience itself,” coach Ron Evans said. “Some of our kids have been to the playoffs now two years in a row. I think I have three or four of those. I think now (the mentality) will be, ‘OK, let's get to the game now.'”

Penn-Trafford overcame a 2-4 start last season, winning 11 of its final 14 games to make the WPIAL playoffs for the fourth straight year before falling to Central Catholic, 4-3, in the opening round. The Warriors will begin this season searching for their first section championship since 2007.

“We definitely want to win the section,” Evans said. “We feel if they play up to their potential, we've got a chance to do that. But it's no easy task, that's for sure.”

The Warriors will benefit from the return to health of senior pitcher Tyler Smith, who was voted the 2013 Class AAAA Pitcher of the Year. Smith, a Canisius recruit, went 5-1 with a 0.83 earned-run average last season before suffering an arm injury late in the regular season. He played third base in the playoff game against Central Catholic but didn't pitch.

Evans said Smith looked healthy heading into the season.

Behind Smith, Penn-Trafford will look for several pitchers to help replace the departed Ross Orgera, Danny Owoc and Zak Wright. Seniors Reid Gadagno, a Yough transfer, Brendan Reddy and Nick Spangler, junior Shane Mallon and sophomores Dom Coconcelli and Jake Laing could all see time on the mound this season.

“We have a lot of guys we can put on the mound,” Evans said. “We just don't know what they're going to be able to do. We know what Tyler can do, and the other guys, we'll find out.”

The entire starting infield returns in Scott Koscho (catcher), Mark Merlino (first base), Shane Churma (second base), Luke Smeltz (shortstop) and Smith (third base). Merlino is close to full health after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last summer, Evans said.

Ryan Marasti, the team's starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter last season, will sit out the season because of injuries, Evans said, but sophomore Josh Brammell will return to man one of the three outfield spots. Seniors Bill Dugan and Jake Morain and junior Chris Common will compete for playing time in the outfield, and Mallon also saw time there last season.

“On paper, it looks good, but you never know how it's going to play out,” Evans said.

Evans said he expected another tight section race between Hempfield, Norwin and Penn-Trafford. Hempfield won the section last season, with Penn-Trafford taking second and Norwin third. The Warriors split their games against Hempfield and swept Norwin.

Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, Kiski Area and Latrobe round out the rest of the section.

Penn-Trafford is scheduled to begin its season with nonsection games Friday at Mt. Pleasant and Saturday at home against Woodland Hills. Section play is scheduled to begin March 31 at Kiski.

“We're biting at the bit right now,” Evans said. “We're a little anxious. Too many times in the past, the first time we were able to play a game was a section game (because of weather). That's not a good thing. We'd love to get out, get a scrimmage and a couple exhibition games in and see what we've got, but that's all dependent on the weather.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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