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Experienced Leopards expected to contend

Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Belle Vernon's pitcher Dylan Pietrantoni (25) pitches against Monessen on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at Monessen.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

It would be understandable if Daryl Hixenbaugh set the bar low for the Belle Vernon Area baseball team.

After all, four seniors from last year's playoff team are now playing collegiately.

However, Hixenabugh has never been known for setting the bar low.

The veteran coach who is returning for a second stint at BVA is happy to finally get things going after a solid winter full of conditioning in which Hixenbaugh saw the stellar leadership skills of his seniors.

“The leadership shown by the senior class since I was hired has been very impressive,” he said. “The team inside (preseason practices) appears to be very talented and hopefully that talent will translate to wins once we get outdoors.”

The Leps return four starters from a year ago, including a pair of three-year letter winners in senior pitcher Dylan Pietrantoni and senior catcher Parker Lynn.

Pietrantoni could also see time at both first base and third base while Lynn could also see time in the infield and will play collegiately at California University of Pennsylvania.

The other two returning starters are also seniors in right fielder Niko Tasser and Dylan Stark, who could see time at both first and third base as well as on the mound.

Other seniors who will be in the lineup include center fielder Cody Menges, left fielder Matt Bashioum, and shortstop James Amoroso with Adam Holliday seeing some time at first base.

Junior Joe Ruffolo will also play first base; junior Isaiah Engstrom will see time in the outfield; and sophomore Evan Hannan starts the year at second base.

The Leps have depth on the mound.

Joining Pietrantoni and Stark on the mound will be fellow right handers Ruffolo, and junior Noah Stulock and a pair of southpaws in Bashioum and Menges.

What kind of expectations does Hixenbaugh have for the team?

“With the leadership of this senior class, I will be very disappointed if we don't at least compete for the section title and or a playoff berth,” he said. “This team is very talented and has set goals.”

The Leps play in the rugged Section 4 AAA with West Mifflin, Elizabeth Forward, Ringgold, South Park, Thomas Jefferson, and Carrick.

Hixenbaugh, with his 30 years of experience as a Major League Baseball scout and nearly as many as a high school coach, did not hesitate when asked what he felt the keys would be to a successful season.

“Our pitching should be solid as long as no one gets injured,” he said. “We have to get timely hits, and we have lots of speed.”

The Leps open the season Saturday when they head to Uniontown for an exhibition game before hosting three more exhibition contests next week to prepare for section play.

Bill Hughes is a freelance writer.

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