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Previewing the 2014 high school baseball season

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 10:57 p.m.
Hempfield's Joey DeFloria warms up during a game against Penn Trafford at Hempfield on Monday, April 8, 2013.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Hempfield's Joey DeFloria warms up during a game against Penn Trafford at Hempfield on Monday, April 8, 2013.
Seneca Valley's Connor Coward pitches during a game against North Allegheny Thursday, April 25, 2013, in Jackson Twp.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley's Connor Coward pitches during a game against North Allegheny Thursday, April 25, 2013, in Jackson Twp.

Class AAAA

Preseason top five

Team 2013 record

1. North Allegheny 22-5

2. Seneca Valley 19-5

3. Hempfield 20-5

4. Shaler 11-10

5. Central Catholic 17-5

Section favorites

1. North Allegheny: The Tigers return pitcher/outfielder Mitchell Machi, who signed with Buffalo, and first baseman Brandon Rossier. Seneca Valley also should challenge for another section title behind pitcher Connor Coward, a Virginia Tech recruit.

2. Hempfield: The Spartans lost numerous key starters, but center fielder Joey DeFloria is looking for a breakout senior season. Tyler Tubbs and Marc Demilio will be the team's top pitchers. Penn-Trafford will be strong behind pitcher Tyler Smith and infielders Shane Churma and Ryan Marasti. Norwin, with infielder and Arizona recruit J.J. Matijevic, and Latrobe also will be in the mix.

3. Central Catholic:The Vikings get a slight nod over Franklin Regional in this race. They are led by Luke Farina, a William & Mary recruit, and pitcher Grant Gustic, who was 8-0. Catcher Brandon Nania, who signed with West Virginia, had four home runs and a .390 batting average and leads a talented Franklin Regional squad. Plum and Baldwin also have strong teams.

4. Shaler:The Titans return senor third baseman Alec McElroy and junior pitcher Jake Potock. Pine-Richland and Woodland Hills will be strong teams. Woodland Hills sophomore pitcher Jake Jessel and Pine-Richland senior shortstop Daane Berezo will be players to watch.

5. Mt. Lebanon: The Blue Devils will be led by senior pitcher Zack Bahm, who has a power arm and heads a strong staff. Peters Township, Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair all have a number of starters returning. Peters Township returns seven pitchers.

Players to watch

Zack BahmSr., P, Mt. Lebanon

He's the ace of the Blue Devils staff. He has a powerful arm and has signed to play at Columbia.

Connor CowardSr., P, Seneca Valley

Virginia Tech recruit is the team's top pitcher and a solid middle infielder.

Joey DeFloriaSr., CF, Hempfield

He signed to play college football, but he has pro scouts watching. He's has the tools scouts love: speed, a power bat and an explosive arm.

J.J. MatijevicSr., INF, Norwin

Arizona recruit can play numerous infield positions and has a lot of power.

Brandon NaniaSr., C, Franklin Regional

WVU recruit is a sound defensive catcher who can hit with power.

Class AAA

Preseason top five

Team 2013 record

1. Blackhawk 10-7

2. Indiana 14-5

3. West Allegheny 17-7

4. Elizabeth Forward 13-7

5. Keystone Oaks 20-6

Section favorites

1. Blackhawk: The Cougars return the top pitcher in the WPIAL, Brendan McKay, as well as outfielder Cody Bain and catcher Jake Emge. West Allegheny and Hopewell also will battle for the section title. Outfielder Tyler Amedure is one of the top Indians, and infielder Tim Hughes heads a strong Vikings squad.

2. Indiana:The Little Indians are led by pitcher Sean Thompson, who signed a letter of intent to play at Virginia Commonwealth. Pitcher Danny Clark and infielder Ryan Creps also return for Indiana. Mt. Pleasant returns four all-section players: infielders Tyler Mellors and Luke Liprando and outfielders Joey Paul and Mitch Matlas. Derry returns seven starters, led by pitcher Connor Wege, and Greensburg Salem has power-hitting third baseman Max Ponzurick and pitcher Pat Boyer returning.

3. Keystone Oaks:The Eagles shared the section title with Chartiers Valley in 2013. They also advanced to the PIAA semifinals by defeating WPIAL champion South Park. Even though KO lost six starters, 6-foot-8 left-handed pitcher Taylor Lehman is exciting scouts. Chartiers Valley returns catcher Don Castello and outfielder Tanner Garris.

4. Elizabeth Forward:The Warriors get a nod in this always tough section. They return infielder Ryan Wardropper. Thomas Jefferson has infielder Joe McHugh back. South Park, the defending WPIAL champions, returns first baseman Shane Fetsko, and West Mifflin is led by pitcher/outfielder A.J. Olasz, a Cincinnati recruit.

5. Hampton: The Talbots will rely on pitchers Ben Vey, who will attend Buffalo, and Nathan Furl. Infielder Stephen Dayton is a line drive hitter and solid defensive player. Mars and Knoch also will challenge for the section title.

Players to watch

Tayler Lehman

Sr., P, Keystone Oaks

Big left-hander who recently struck out 10 in four innings in a scrimmage, he plans to attend Penn State.

Brendan McKay

Sr., P, Blackhawk

McKay is considered the top pitcher in the WPIAL. He has 242 career strikeouts in 175 innings. He's committed to Louisville and made the Maxpreps nationwide top 100.

A.J. Olasz

Sr., P, West Mifflin

Cincinnati recruit had an ERA of 2.60 in 2013 with 64 strikeouts in 40 13 innings.

Max Ponzurick

Sr., 3B, Greensburg Salem

One of the top hitters in the WPIAL, he was slowed by an injury last season. He will be heading to Virginia Tech in the fall.

Sean Thompson

Sr., P. Indiana

VCU recruit steadily has improved and has three solid pitches.

Class AA

Preseason top five

Team 2013 record

1. Riverside 15-4

2. Quaker Valley 23-2

3. Shady Side Academy 16-9

4. Deer Lakes 17-5

5. Shenango 10-10

Section favorites

1. Quaker Valley: The Quakers return a strong pitcher staff led by junior Tyler Garbee. Look for catcher Ben Utterback to have a strong season. Seton-La Salle, South Side Beaver and New Brighton are dangerous teams. This will be a tight section.

2. Brownsville: The Falcons are led by junior catcher Shane Roebuck and senior pitcher Ryan Novotny. Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry should also contend. With seven starters returning, Beth-Center will be a team to watch if it develops some pitching.

3. Deer Lakes: The Lancers return five starters led by shortstop Todd Coleman, catcher Matt Olesnivich and outfielder Zach Hudicek. Freeport has catcher Matt Swartz back, and Burrell returns six starters.

4. Shady Side Academy: The Indians get a slight edge over Steel Valley and Greensburg Central Catholic. They are led by outfielder Chuckie Scales and catcher Jake Kleindl. Greensburg Central Catholic returns six starters, including outfielder Ed Kilkeary. Steel Valley outfielder Anthony Churba has game-changing defensive skills.

5. Riverside: This has been the top section in Class AA in recent seasons. The Panthers return six starters, led by pitchers Mitch Connolly and Jason Pettner. Shenango returns seven starters and three pitchers, and Ellwood City has eight starters back.

Players to watch

Hunter Beaumont

Sr., C, South Side Beaver

Beaumont is an excellent defensive catcher with a strong arm. He's also a solid hitter.

Tyler Booher

Sr., P, Shenango

This crafty right-hander likes to work the corners and keeps the ball down in the zone. He's also a corner infielder.

Anthony Churba

Sr., OF, Steel Valley

A very good defensive outfielder with speed and a great arm, he plans to attend a junior college next fall.

Tyler Garbee

Jr., P, Quaker Valley

Garbee was 8-0 with an ERA of 0.87 in 2013. He's expected to be one of the top pitchers in Class AA.

Chuckie Scales

Sr., OF, S.S. Academy

Scales has committed to play at Bucknell. He's fast and one of the top defensive outfielders in the WPIAL.

Class A

Preseason top five

Team 2013 record

1. Western Beaver 18-3

2. California 20-6

3. Carmichaels 13-4

4. Serra 18-3

5. Riverview 15-3

Section favorites

1. California: This could be a battle all season between California and Carmichaels. Both teams return numerous starters: the Trojans eight and the Mikes six. California is led by second baseman Mike Luketich and junior outfielder Aaron Previsky. Carmichaels returns pitcher Brandon Lawless.

2. Serra Catholic: This is well-balanced section. Serra Catholic returns all-section infielders Parker Janosko and Brandon Coddington. Bishop Canevin returns six starters. Monessen returns all-section infielders Josh Kucmenoski and Noah Rullo, and Frazier has catcher Zach Mastowski and first baseman Chaise Bertocci back in the lineup.

3. Western Beaver: The returning WPIAL champions return seven starters, including three all-section players: catcher Steve Menich and infielders Nick Miller and Robert DiMaggio. Rochester has six starters back, including junior outfielder Chaz Verrico, and Union returns infielder/pitcher Devan Schuller.

4. Riverview: The Raiders have four all-section players returning: catcher Jake Paradise, infielder Ryan Peluso, outfielder Jason Anthony and pitcher Nick DiBucci. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and Springdale also should challenge for playoff berths.

5. Vincentian Academy: The Royals are experienced with the return of catcher Phil Madonna and outfielders Jay Cortese and Ian Taylor. Madonna was the team's top hitter and Taylor the top pitcher. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Northgate will be strong. Both teams return five starters.

Players to watch

Dominic Conte

Sr., INF/P, Riverview

Conte was an all-section player who is a solid pitcher and infielder.

Brandon Lawless

Sr., P, Carmichaels

Lawless was 7-1 with a 1.83 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 46 innings pitched in 2013.

Mike Luketich

Sr., 2B, California

Luketich was the team's leading hitter with a .450 average in 2013.

Phil Madonna

Sr., C, Vincentian Academy

Madonna has signed to play at Siena. He has a strong arm and solid defensive skills.

Chaz Verrico

Jr., OF, Rochester

Verrico batted. 450 and was an all-section player for the Rams in 2013.

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