Mars baseball team searching for right mix

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 2:00 p.m.

The Mars baseball team has plenty of holes to fill — and not much time to do it.

However, the Planets helped themselves a bit again this season when they went on their annual southern trip — a staple for the program since 2003.

While snow — instead of chalk — covered the baselines in late March, Mars headed to South Carolina for some team bonding and quality work on an actual field. The Planets took part in a three-game tournament at The Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach.

Mars went 2-1 during its stay. The Planets opened the season with a 1-0 win over Laurel Highlands on March 21. The next day, they split a day-night doubleheader. They dropped a 7-5 decision to Whitehall, but rebounded for a 7-0 win over Moniteau.

“We played three games down there and had a nice practice. Our jayvee kids played three games, too, so it is like a mini spring training for us,” Mars coach Brian Hobaugh said. “The weather was good for the three days we were there. We got to play all the games and got a chance to look at some people. You don't often get to do that in high school baseball with a 20-game season.

“You don't have 20 games to figure out your lineup; the kids have to be ready to go. I told the kids, when they get an opportunity, they have to produce. Our evaluation of them is based on maybe one or two games.”

Opportunities are available since Mars graduated eight seniors from a year ago, including ace pitcher David Bednar and standout catcher Matt Eperesi.

“We have 10 seniors, but of those 10, only three or four of them had considerable playing time last year. A lot of these seniors were junior varsity level players last year, and they don't have that varsity-level experience yet,” Hobaugh said. “We're trying to figure out which of them are going to step up. Some of the kids have done it a little bit.”

Senior Nate Furl moves into the top pitching spot for the Planets. Last year, he went 5-1 with 53 strikeouts and 10 walks in 31 innings. He had a 1.81 ERA.

“Matt Parrish has been pitching really well. He is going to be our No. 2,” Hobaugh said. “We have some other kids I think will help us out, too.”

Mars searched for consistency in its nonsection games. Once it got back from its southern trip, the team dropped a 4-3 decision at Riverside and suffered a 10-3 setback at Blackhawk, the team that eliminated the Planets from last year's WPIAL playoffs. Mars had a 2-0 lead through three innings, but the Cougars rallied for the win.

“That game was a tale of two teams,” Hobaugh said. “For the first three innings, we were up 2-0 and looking good. Then, all of a sudden, we fell on our faces and didn't recover from a couple errors and the next thing you know it's 8-2. Blackhawk is a good team, but I was a little disappointed in the fact that we didn't finish strong. We'll be OK, though.”

The Planets, finally playing on their home field, rebounded for a 3-2 victory over Central Catholic on Wednesday. The team was scheduled to open WPIAL Section 5-AAA on Friday against Kittanning.

A year ago, Mars finished second in the section (8-2) to Hampton (10-0). The Talbots won both head-to-head meetings (8-2 and 4-1).

Hobaugh believes Hampton will be tough again this season.

“Hampton is strong every year,” Hobaugh said. “I think they're the team to beat in our section. Then you have Knoch and us. I think Valley will be better than they were last year. Highlands and Kittanning might be a step or two below. But, I know they're going to play us tough. I think the section is going to be competitive. I don't think there are going to be a whole lot of easy games for us.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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