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Penn-Trafford baseball looking for more consistency

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Lori Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Penn-Trafford senior Mark Merlino (left) is congratulated by Luke Smeltz after hitting a two-run home run during a game at Connellsville on Monday, April 7, 2014.

The Penn-Trafford baseball team is off to a strong start this season on the scoreboard. Coach Ron Evans, however, would like to see a stronger overall effort.

Penn-Trafford (6-0, 2-0 Section 1-AAAA) continued its unbeaten start to the season with a 12-10 victory Monday over Connellsville. The Warriors jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, but they had to rally late after a nine-run fifth inning gave Connellsville a 10-9 lead.

“We came out excited and got up eight runs,” Evans said. “Then we started getting lazy at the plate. We have to go for the kill. That team came back.”

Through six games, Evans is looking for more consistency at the plate. Penn-Trafford was averaging more than seven runs per game after Monday's contest, but the Warriors are struggling to make solid contact at times, Evans said.

“I told the kids that we've got to start hitting more line drives and ground balls,” Evans said. “We're hitting a lot of fly-ball outs, and we've had a lot of strikeouts, which is a little disappointing early in the season. That's what we're working on. We're working on our hitting, and if that comes around, with our pitching I think we'll be OK.”

While Penn-Trafford's hitting was struggling entering this week, the pitching was performing up to Evans' expectations. The Warriors allowed eight runs in five games before Connellsville's 10-run outburst on Monday.

Senior Tyler Smith, the WPIAL Class AAAA Pitcher of the Year in 2013, picked up right where he left off, earning wins in three of the Warriors' first four games and getting the save Monday when he struck out the side with the bases loaded in the seventh inning.

Behind Smith, the Warriors are getting production on the mound from Dom Coconcelli, Jake Laing, Brendan Reddy and Nick Spangler. Coconcelli held Franklin Regional to one hit in a 6-0 victory March 28, while Spangler and Reddy also have victories this season.

“Dom Coconcelli pitched an outstanding game against Franklin Regional,” Evans said. “He kept them off guard. To hold them to one hit, I thought he did an outstanding job. Brendan Reddy's done well for us also, and I have Jake Laing in there. ... If I can get a couple guys behind Tyler Smith, that should solidify us pretty good.”

Evans said the team's defense also was performing well and particularly shined in a 2-1 victory over Kiski Area last week.

That leaves the hitting. The Warriors showed some power in Monday's game against Connellsville, with Mark Merlino hitting a two-run home run and Luke Smeltz adding a solo shot. But Evans wants to see more overall consistency from the lineup, particularly with the meat of the schedule coming up. Penn-Trafford will host section rivals Hempfield and Norwin on Thursday and Monday, respectively, and will play a nonsection game against Greensburg Salem on Saturday at PNC Park.

“I think we're going to be fine once the section rolls around,” Evans said. “I think that competitive spirit's going to come through, and they're going to be ready to play ball. ... You can't let up on any game. If you let up and just go through the motions, that's when you're going to lose.

“I'm hoping these guys come out this week and play every game hard for seven innings and realize they've got to battle for the section.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib. Staff writer Jason Black contributed to this story.

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