Brentwood baseball coach fitting together pieces of preseason puzzle
Greg Perdziola has been head coach of the Brentwood varsity baseball program for 12 years.
The 2014 squad — with only two seniors and four returning starters — is the youngest he's ever coached.
“This year's team is like a puzzle; we just need to find the right pieces and put them in the right places,” Perdziola said. “This will be a very young and inexperienced team to start the year. The good thing is there will be a lot of opportunity for players to compete for starting positions at the varsity level.
“This is the first year I can really say every position is open for competition.”
The Spartans suffered through a 2-12 season in 2013, competing in Section 1-AA.
“Our goals are always the same, to win the section and make the playoffs,” said Perdziola, who also is longtime assistant football coach at Brentwood.
The returning starters are Sean Cloonan, a senior second baseman/outfielder; Derek Hogue, a senior catcher/outfielder; Connor McWilliams, a junior catcher/pitcher; and Tyler Jorgenson, a junior outfielder and one of the team's leading hitters last year with a .350 batting average.
“Playing time at catcher will be split between Derek and Connor. Both played there last year and will be in the lineup in a DH role or another position when not catching,” Perdziola said.
Several players — including Cloonan, junior Nathan Christopher, sophomore Sean McGlaughlin and freshman Tanner Klein — have been competing for the middle infield positions.
McGlaughlin also is an outfielder, while Klein also is a member of the Spartans' pitching staff.
One of three juniors, Brendan Mulholland, Andrew Gazzam or Anton Zupancic, is expected to start at third base.
Mulholland also can play first base, along with junior Nick Balkovec and sophomore Brandon Mayfield.
Jorgenson most likely will anchor the Brentwood outfield as the starter in center. Cloonan, Mayfield and McGlaughlin, along with juniors Tyler Paranzino and Corey Samarco, are corner outfielders.
“Pitching is where we will be very inexperienced at the varsity level,” said Perdziola, who is assisted by Dan Krzyzanowski and Mike Vickless.
Two players who have some experience on the varsity mound are McWilliams and Paranzino. McWilliams pitched as a freshman, but not last year due to arm trouble.
Paranzino registered 10 strikeouts in 10 innings of work.
“Tyler is dealing with tendinitis, so I am not sure how much he will be able to pitch this year,” Perdziola said.
McWilliams, Paranzino, Cloonan, Christopher, Gazzam, Mayfield, Samarco and Klein have been looking for spots in the pitching rotation.
“With only two exhibition games, it will be tough to get them all enough innings at the varsity level prior to section play,” Perdziola said. “At this point, how we do this year will depend on how we play defense.”
One key player on last year's team who will be missed this season is senior Justin Vickless, who still is recovering from a football-related injury.
Vickless, an outfielder/pitcher, hit .347 last year and led the Spartans in runs, with 12; and doubles, with eight; to go along with eight RBIs. He also was the winning pitcher in Brentwood's two wins.
“Losing Justin is a big loss. He would have been my leadoff hitter, No. 1 pitcher and starting shortstop, and a three-year starter,” Perdziola said. “More important, he would have provided a leadership role for this young team.”
Hogue and McWilliams were two of the team's leading long-ball threats last season, and are expected to maintain similar roles this spring.
“I think we should be an above-average hitting team, but we need to be a much better team fielding the ball than we were last year,” Perdziola said. “Our main focus this year during practice is to make the routine play and not give the other team extra outs.”
The Spartans' top freshmen prospects include Klein, infielders Michael Lane, Luke Gidias, Jake Thomas and Brett Zakowski; catchers Gary Fox and Earl Simmons, who's also an infielder; outfielders Kirk Brown and Cameron Moir; and infielder/pitcher Jared Toth.
Perdziola said Quaker Valley is the team to beat in section play this season.
The Quakers won the section title with a 14-0 record in 2013, did not lose a regular-season game, and advanced to the WPIAL Class AA championship game.
Quaker Valley, which ended up 23-2 overall, New Brighton, Seton-La Salle and South Side Beaver were the top four teams in Section 4-AA last year.
“Quaker Valley is very good and should be the favorite,” Perdziola said. “Seton-La Salle is always good, and South Side Beaver could have a very good team.”
Brentwood is slated to open the season March 27 with a nonsection game at Clairton, followed by another nonsection contest March 28 at home against South Allegheny.
The Spartans are scheduled to begin section play March 31 at New Brighton.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.