South Allegheny baseball looks to change losing trend
After six consecutive losing seasons with the last two being four-win, last-place finishes, South Allegheny baseball coach Mark Suckfiel isn't into promising anything — especially when it comes to competing for a playoff spot.
“I don't want to say that,” Suckfiel said about possibly making a run at the third and final postseason bid out of Section 4-AA.
But don't be surprised if South Allegheny doesn't make a claim at its first postseason appearance in seven seasons, especially if the first couple weeks of the season are an indication.
Sure, the Gladiators are off to a 1-3 start, but it's an impressive 1-3 start.
South Allegheny upset Class AAA Carrick in the season opener, played Quad-A Albert Gallatin and Brentwood tough before taking an 8-0 lead over Greensburg Central Catholic in the section opener.
SA ended up losing to GCC, 12-10, but it showed to the veteran Suckfiel that his team is close to being able to compete with the best of them.
“That win against Carrick was a phenomenal win for us,” Suckfiel said. “I believe we are on the cusp here, I really do. I believe that we are going to be very competitive this year.”
Being competitive is something South Allegheny hasn't been very often since its first-round playoff loss to Riverside in 2007.
Since then, South Allegheny has six straight 10-loss seasons and an overall 27-75 record.
“We have been competitive but we haven't been able to return to that success and get over the hump,” Suckfiel said. “It seems like we are always one or two guys short.”
Suckfiel likes what he sees from his team not only during the first two weeks, but their commitment during the offseason as well.
“Over the past couple of years, we have seen a great amount of growth within our players,” Suckfiel said. “The kids are buying into it our system and everything we are trying to accomplish. We have a great bunch of kids this year and for the foreseeable future.”
When Suckfiel talks about the future, he's talking about Stefano Faiello. The freshman is the leadoff hitter for the Gladiators and even though he plays mostly second base, Suckfiel believes that Faiello is his shortstop of the future and will work him in at that position.
“He is really a nice little player being a freshman,” Suckfiel said. “It is nice to have a young kid step up like that.”
Suckfiel, however, will lean on seniors Tyler Ellwood (left field), Derek Vargo (shortstop/pitcher) and Nic Immekus (third base) for leadership.
Rounding out the starting lineup are juniors Brandon Ruffing (first base), Zach Young (designated hitter), Dylan Papson (center field) and Brad Figola (second base/shortstop), along with sophomore Nate Stetz (right field).
The pitching staff consists of Ruffing, Immekus, Stetz and Vargo, along with “innings eaters” Evan Tutko and Jake Duval.
Even with the upside of the team, Suckfiel won't allow himself to look past the here and now.
“My old coach (Joe Ranalli) told me that there are three parts to every season: The first half, the second half and the playoffs,” Suckfiel said. “I am seeing some good things in the first half and hopefully we can continue that. The second half, I hope we can learn to win and continue and hopefully get into the playoffs.”