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Trusting path made by boys basketball team, Kiski Area baseball believes in new coach

| Monday, March 31, 2014, 10:51 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Kiski Area's baseball coach Joe Culler calls out plays during a game against Penn Trafford on Monday, March 31, 2014, at Kiski Area.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Kiski Area's Cameron Smail anticipates the tag on Penn Trafford's Josh Brammell on Monday, March 31, 2014, at Kiski Area.

A familiar notion came to Kiski Area senior Ryan Sciullo as he studied the Cavaliers baseball team this preseason.

He noted the new coach. And the promising collection of returning starters. And the perception among program outsiders that Kiski Area isn't a top-tier team this season.

That sounds a lot like the Kiski Area boys basketball team's preseason scenario, Sciullo, a guard this winter, thought to himself.

The Cavaliers on the court, led by first-year coach Joey Tutchstone, exceeded expectations this past season, as they reached the WPIAL semifinals as a No. 13 seed. Sciullo and others believe Kiski Area (3-1, 0-1), under the guidance of new coach Joe Culler, can do the same on the diamond.

“The first three games we played, we can do that all year,” said Sciullo, referencing three wins in which the Cavaliers outscored their opponents 34-8. “We're just trying to get things rolling. We know we can do it.”

Only two starters graduated following a campaign in which Kiski Area finished 4-13 overall and dealt with a midseason coaching change.

“It put a damper on the spirits of some of the guys, but I think we did a pretty good job of trying to finish out the year with that on the table,” said senior Tyler Graham, a co-captain with Sciullo and senior Cam Smail.

Culler, a 2001 Blairsville graduate who was hired in November, succeeded Shawn Schwarz, who served as interim coach in 2013 after Daryl Hixenbaugh resigned midseason to end a five-plus year tenure.

“With Hix, everything had to be professional,” Sciullo said. “This year, we're kind of just out here playing baseball. … We're working on little things and trying to get better, but we're not worried about all the little things that more professional teams worry about. We're just playing high school baseball.”

A high school math teacher in the district, Culler's resume includes more football coaching experience than baseball. He served as a football assistant with Kiski Area for five seasons, while his prior baseball coaching experience was a one-year stint as Cavaliers' freshman coach in 2010.

Culler played college football at Division III powerhouse Mount Union in Ohio, but he shared an anecdote to shed light on his love for baseball: During training camp one season, he drove to Indiana County to pitch in a summer league playoff game.

“I've been all about baseball since I was like 5 years old, so I kind of had to take this opportunity knowing what kind of team was coming back this year and the guys that were going to be added to the equation,” Culler said. “I saw the love for baseball dropping here at Kiski. So my main goal was to get interest back in the game, and then build a team around that interest.”

Because of those season-opening blowouts — two of which came against Class AAAA Gateway and McKeesport — the Cavaliers found themselves operating with a level of confidence rarely enjoyed last season. A 2-1 home loss Monday to Penn-Trafford (4-0, 1-0) that opened Section 2-AAAA play humbled Kiski Area, but there's still considerable faith that a special run is in store.

“We were in a lot of one-run games last year, so this year, teams are kind of taking us for granted,” Smail said. “We just want to come out, kind of underdogs like they were in basketball, and just jump on opponents.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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