KO's 6-foot-7 left-hander Lehman is turning heads

| Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

When Keystone Oaks baseball coach Scott Crimone approached senior Taylor Lehman before a mid-March exhibition game in North Carolina, he was not alone.

Fifteen scouts surrounded Crimone and Lehman, a 6-foot-7 left-handed pitcher who has been clocked at 92 mph this season.

“(The scouts) weren't there last year, so I walked over to him, smiled and said, ‘This is kind of different.' ” Crimone said. “He just said, ‘I'm kind of used to it by now.'

“It's not bothering him, which is awesome.”

Crowds have started to accompany Lehman this season, but the added pressure hasn't rattled the Penn State recruit. If anything, it has made him better.

After lengthening his stride to take advantage of his long, powerful legs, Lehman has matured into perhaps the WPIAL's most feared pitcher — at minimum its most physically imposing.

Not only does Lehman throw hard, consistently registering 86-89 mph, but he has added a sharp slider and a splitter to a looping curveball that he loves to throw backdoor to lefties.

“I really didn't stride much at all last year, but I've been working on being more flexible and stronger with my lower half,” Lehman said. “It wasn't all arm, but I wasn't using my legs as much as I should have.”

Even without much of a leg drive, Lehman went 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 24 23 innings as a junior, topping out in the low 80s.

The longer stride and increased focus on building his shoulder muscles has added between 6 and 10 mph.

It has not, however, changed Lehman's demeanor.

“He's humble,” Crimone said. “He's not letting all this attention get to him.”

Lehman opened the 2014 season by striking out 12 in seven innings to beat Hopewell, 3-2, on March 27.

After his outing Monday against Allderdice was rained out, Lehman will start Friday's Section 3-AAA opener against Trinity at Consol Energy Park in Washington.

It's doubtful the Wild Things' ballpark will be sold out, which means there will be fewer people than have seen him pitch around the country.

“It became easier over the summer because college coaches would be watching me,” Lehman said. “I kind of got used to that. In October, I pitched in a big tournament down in Florida. There were so many scouts there.”

A year after Jared Skolnicki went 11-1 to lead the Golden Eagles to a 20-6 record and their first PIAA Class AAA playoff berth, Lehman is aiming for similar success.

He's joined by sophomore Nick Riggle, who shifts from first base to shortstop after hitting .306 with six doubles and 16 RBIs last season.

Seniors John Beveridge and Kevin Tunney will man corner infield spots, with Beveridge also serving as the No. 2 pitcher and an occasional outfielder.

Senior Walt Hepner can play multiple positions and provides speed at the top of the order. Junior Ben Canty is a returning starter at second base.

“We really like our lineup,” Crimone said. “It's speed at the top, speed at the bottom and some power in the middle.

“We're going to try and move runners and do a lot of running this year.”

Which, in a way, is ironic.

Because when Lehman's pitching, that's about all opposing teams are able to do against Keystone Oaks (1-1).

“I hear some chatter in the dugout — look at all the radar guns,” Crimone said. “We're trying to make sure it doesn't get to them, but they see it as an opportunity. We're hoping that they embrace it and enjoy the attention that we're going to get.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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