Freshman ace leads Serra Catholic baseball team with high hopes
It just doesn't seem fair.
No high school baseball program should be blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher twice, let alone two years apart, but freshman lefty Cole McCombs just might be the second coming of Alain Girman.
“He may be better than Alain at this level right now,” Serra Catholic coach Brian Dzurenda said. “He is as polished of a pitcher at this level that I've seen at this stage.”
Now, McCombs — who throws consistently in the low 80s — has a long way to go to match the resume of Girman (31-2, 1.18 ERA), but Dzurenda is going to give the West Mifflin resident every opportunity.
Dzurenda already has designated McCombs as his ace after seeing McCombs pitch during the summer and fall. McCombs hasn't disappointed in the preseason, as well, as he has been working with former professional pitcher David Lee for the past six months.
“Boy, can you see a difference,” said Dzurenda, who has a 216-71-1 record in 14 seasons as Serra's coach.
Throw in another freshman pitcher, Neil Hartnett, and the Eagles could have two freshmen throwing the majority of their innings a year after going 18-3 and advancing to the WPIAL Class A semifinals.
“They are ninth-graders, and they aren't afraid,” Dzurenda said. “A big part of the battle is that they aren't intimidated.
“I worry about the deer-in-the-headlight syndrome, but with these two kids, I really don't. They have been through it and have played a million games in the offseason. I am not worried about these two in particular.”
Dzurenda, who has won at least 10 games in each season as Serra's coach, has one of his youngest teams he can recall.
Brandon Coddington, a four-year starter who will play shortstop and pitch, is the only senior on the roster. Serra lost a trio of starters to graduation: pitchers Wayne Hydak and Chad Hazaga and four-year starting catcher Dylan Kugler.
“We have such a good freshman and sophomore classes right now, and I think we are going to be really good next year and the following year,” Dzurenda said. “We just need to weather the storm and stack some wins this year, and it is going to really build for the coming years.”
Serra hasn't had to “weather the storm” in a while.
The Eagles went 10-10-1 in 2006, but since then, the have accumulated a 140-13 record with six section titles, two WPIAL championships, two state runners-up trophies and a state title in 2011.
Even though there is not much experience returning and Dzurenda knows the future of this team might be better than its present, he's not about to sell this group short.
“Absolutely we can win the section, no doubt,” Dzurenda said. “Could we make it to the WPIAL championship? Who knows? You know how that goes.
“You have to get a couple breaks and have to stay healthy. After 2011, I don't count anything out.”
The core of the returning players include Coddington, junior catcher Parker Janosko, junior second baseman Zac Quattrone, junior outfielder Marty Slovonic and junior first baseman John Fazio.
They will be joined in the starting lineup by junior third baseman Ryan Holland and a pair of sophomore outfielders in Noah Kinser and Jake Eged.
“I love that the kids are young and naive,” Dzurenda said. “They are impressionable, they listen, they learn, they respond.
“They believe they can do it. I am cautiously optimistic.”
The pitching staff will have McCombs as the No. 1 followed by Coddington, Hartnett, Quattrone and Brandon Ethridge.
“We have prepared well this year,” Dzurenda said. “The kids are working. The kids are real blue-collar workers.”
Serra opens play Friday at California then goes to Chartiers-Houston the next day.
The Eagles also play Class AAA's Elizabeth Forward, all to get prepared for a competitive Section 3-A with the likes of Bishop Canevin, Frazier and Monessen.
“Monessen could be the favorite in the section,” Dzurenda said. “They are going to be pretty good.”