Canevin, Carlynton baseball teams get ready to take the field
For Bishop Canevin baseball, a drop down to Class A was a perfect fit.
The Crusaders made the drop last season and joined Section 2-A with Clairton, Frazier, Monessen, Geibel Catholic and Serra Catholic. Bishop Canevin finished 7-3 in section play last season, good enough for second place.
“It really fits the school and athletic program and allows us to be competitive,” Bishop Canevin coach Dale Checketts said. “It evens the playing field. The only problem is the long road trips.”
That problem will be fixed next season when the team joins Section 5-A with Avella, Brentwood, Cornell, Eden Christian and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
The Crusaders lost four seniors — including Nico DiPaolo, who is playing at Gannon — from a team that went 8-6 overall and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals but return plenty of talent across the field.
Bishop Canevin returns four of its top pitchers from last season in senior Cameron Kohan, junior Mitchell Tauffer and sophomores Justin Dix and Sam Smallhoover.
The pitching staff will be boosted by the return of senior catcher Zach Cortese.
Mark DeSchon was the Crusaders' designated hitter last season but will move to first base. The outfield will be solid with the returns of Smallhoover in center and junior Giovanni DeMarzo in left.
“This is one of the more experienced squads we have had over the last few years,” Checketts said. “But we are still young so there may be a few mistakes out the gate.”
Senior Garrett Godlewski returns after playing as an underclassmen but sitting out last season. Tyler Lampus is one of several freshmen who could make an impact this year.
Checketts said Section 2-A will come down to four teams with Serra Catholic, Frazier, Monessen and the Crusaders vying for the title. But if Bishop Canevin can stay focused and concentrate on the little things, a third straight WPIAL berth should be obtainable.
“Every year we have the same goals: win the section and compete for a WPIAL championship,” Checketts said. “But before we get there, we need to concentrate on playing consistently.”
Carlynton, meanwhile, is welcoming in first-year coach Tim Miller, previously an assistant at Canon-McMillan and South Park.
The pitching staff should be strong thanks to seniors Justin Autrey, Fred Carini and Jordan Oddi along with junior Max Janocha and sophomores Dustin Barron and Jake Bickus.
“I think if we pitch well as a collective effort, that would help us a lot,” Miller said. “Peters Township lost a lot of talent in 2009 but went into every game and used three or four pitchers. They limited the exposure of each guy.
“We want to do the same where we emphasize the players' strengths and mask their weaknesses.”
Senior Kevin Schuster was described as versatile, able to pitch along with playing third base or behind the plate. Mason Follmer, in his first season since playing in Pony League, will provide Carlynton another multifaceted athlete.
“I would say I like the athleticism across the board,” Miller said. “Being able to field a lineup of good athletes can go a long way.”
Batting will be a focus after the Cougars struggled at the plate at times last season. Miller said he is trying to educate the team on reducing strikeouts and getting the ball in play.
“That is a big question mark going into the season,” Miller said. “A magic number for us is six. If we can score more than six runs, we will be competitive in every game.”
Miller described Section 1-AA as “brutal” with South Side Beaver, Seton-La Salle, Quaker Valley, Avonworth, Brentwood, New Brighton and Freedom.
“There are a lot of pitchers scattered throughout the section to make life difficult for most teams,” Miller said.
But if Carlynton can improve from game to game, it may be in line for its first playoff berth since 2011.
“The main goal is to qualify for playoffs,” Miller said. “Anything else we want to do as a team starts there. We want to make sure we are a better team in May than we are in March.”
Carlynton is scheduled to play on the road against Quaker Valley on Monday. First pitch is set for 4:15 p.m.