Alle-Kiski Valley baseball preview: Deer Lakes seeking four-peat
When fourth-year Deer Lakes baseball coach Jon Pedrosky discusses rival programs Burrell and Freeport, he still speaks with considerable reverence for the Section 3-AA foes.
Apparently the Lancers' three straight section titles haven't gone to Pedrosky's head. And the same seems to hold true for Deer Lakes' players.
After a decade-plus of middle-of-the-pack finishes in their section, the Lancers emerged as a reliable frontrunner each of the last three seasons. And with all but three starters back from a team that went 12-0 in section play and made the WPIAL Class AA semifinals, they enter this spring with a strong chance of winning their fourth title in as many years.
“I think people in the community expect us to do that, and it's not easy,” Pedrosky said. “There's always a good Freeport team, a good Burrell team and a wildcard out there that can creep up on you. … But I think we welcome the pressure that (the expectations) come with.”
The WPIAL baseball season begins Friday, and section play starts March 31.
Deer Lakes, which had a 17-5 record in 2013, graduated ace Adam Fredley, standout slugger Kevin Begley and starting outfielder Zach Bryner. But a strong core, led by senior pitcher/shortstop Todd Coleman and catcher Matt Olesnevich, remains.
“Since last year, our confidence hasn't dropped at all,” said Olesnevich, a third-year starter and the team's leadoff batter. “We're still up. Last year just made us hungry.”
A 4-0 loss to then-undefeated Quaker Valley in the semifinals and a 7-6 walkoff loss to Shady Side Academy in the WPIAL consolation game kept Deer Lakes from advancing to the PIAA playoffs for the first time.
The season's conclusion soured what had been a sterling campaign for Deer Lakes, which hadn't made the WPIAL semifinals since 1994.
“Our goal is always the top,” said Coleman, a four-year starter and the favorite to replace Fredley as team ace. “We're still a defensive team, like always. But I think our bats might be a little better this year.”
Junior Scott Ventura, a third-year starter, will rotate with Coleman at shortstop.
A pair of non-seniors with Division I potential will make up the front end of Plum's pitching rotation this season. Righty Brian Albert, a 6-foot-2 junior, and lefty Alex Kirilloff, a 6-1 sophomore, are two reasons Mustangs coach Carl Vollmer believes Plum is poised to do considerably better than it did in 2013, when the team went 15-7 and reached the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.
“Many, many schools across the Eastern seaboard are interested, but he's already committed to Liberty,” Vollmer said of Kirilloff, who also hit 10 doubles and two home runs while maintaining a .435 batting average. “He's a special player.”
Kirilloff, Albert and senior infielders Nick Stotler and Mike Maleski also give Plum considerable punch at the plate. Maleski led the team in batting average (.482), slugging (.714) and on-base percentage (.565) last season.
“We've been a small-ball team for a long time,” Vollmer said, “but I think we have some guys who like to swing the bat and bring in runs with their talent, so I think this year is a little different from others, in that we'll let them swing the bats more.”
In its return to Class A last season after eight years in Class AA, Riverview went 15-3 and shared a Section 4 title. What sticks in the Raiders' memories most vividly, however, is a 6-4 loss to California in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
“I know not one of us wants to have that feeling we had in our stomachs after that loss,” senior pitcher/infielder Nick DiBucci said. “I think we all feel we underachieved, so we really want to go above and beyond this season.”
DiBucci and senior Dom Conte will try to pick up where 2013 graduate Anthony Malky, the WPIAL's regular-season strikeout leader, left off on the mound.
“It's going to be very, very difficult to reach those numbers,” DiBucci said of Malky's 101 strikeouts. “But I think we're both confident we can do what needs to be done.”