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Pitching, defense fuel Butler baseball team's strong start

| Saturday, April 26, 2014, 4:15 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Butler's Mark Gross throws a pitch during a 2014 game. He is one of the team's returning starting pitchers.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Butler High School's Kyle Campbell waits for the throw from the outfield as Fox Chapel's Gregory Yaksich slides into home when Butler hosted Fox Chapel, Thursday.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Butler High School's Reid Werth makes contact with the ball when Butler hosted Fox Chapel, Thursday.

Butler's baseball team is attempting to go from worst to first.

Through the first half of section play, that's exactly what happened for the Golden Tornado.

After suffering through a two-win season last year (2-16), which included an 0-10 mark in WPIAL Section 1-AAAA, Butler is no longer looking up in the standings. The squad is peering down from the top at 5-0.

“Last year was a difficult year,” Butler coach Todd Erdos said. “We had a senior class that didn't want to compete as a team and that showed. We were better than our record indicated. These kids learned from last year.”

Pitching has keyed the Golden Tornado's surge. That's something Erdos knows well. He pitched for the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in his five seasons in Major League Baseball.

“My assistant coaches Eric Furl and Darrell Patten worked hard through the winter with these kids and continue to add value, and the kids believe in what they are teaching. The program has benefitted from their involvement as well,” Erdos said. “We really haven't been doing anything different. Sometimes, the talent is a little better and guys start to buy in and they have success and start believing. The guys are doing a great job eliminating walks and working ahead in counts.”

Seniors Jesse Savisky and Nick Reamer and juniors Wyatt Daugherty and Mark Gross have been the workhorses on the mound. Daugherty, Gross and Savisky have been the primary starters, while Reamer has closed out games. The squad allowed one run or less in eight of the team's first 10 games.

“Pretty much through this first half of the season, our pitchers have enabled us to compete and win these games,” Erdos said. “They worked hard through the winter. They took it upon themselves to step up. They knew the team would only go as far as the pitching would take us. It's been very positive. It's been a team competition. They try to go out and compete and one-up each other.”

That pitching depth has allowed the team to compete with — and beat — the strong teams in its section.

“It definitely helps to have that when you're going through the section having three games a week,” Erdos said. “You can use a guy on a Monday and get him back Friday. It's nice to have three main starters you believe in and trust can go out there and give you a chance to win and give you a good feeling.”

Butler senior catcher Kyle Campbell and the infield of Logan Maxwell (first base), Ryan Denny (second base), Cory Wheeler (shortstop) and Nick Patten (third base) have helped the pitchers, too.

“The other great thing is we have been consistent in the field. The defense has played tremendously well and been very fundamentally sound,” Erdos said. “We have not given up four or five outs in an inning. We're catching the ball and making the routine outs. When pitchers see that, they are not afraid to get contact early in the count and throw strikes.”

The Golden Tornado have shown character, too. The team has won five one-run games, including a stretch of four in a row in section play.

“When you come out on top and win a couple in a row, it builds confidence. When it's close in another game, they are more relaxed,” Erdos said. “Every team we play is pretty talented, and it's going to come down to a close game, so we have to make sure we do the little things right.”

Butler knows it won't sneak up on anybody in the second half of the season, either.

“We have the ‘X' on our back now. Teams will be shooting for us,” Erdos said. “Everyone knows what we can do, and we know what they can do. Someone will try to knock us down. In a way, that's a good thing. This is the position that we worked all offseason to be a part of. I still think, as a team, we haven't played our best baseball yet. So, that is positive and exciting to see. We have room to grow offensively.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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