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After 3-year drought, Laurel Highlands eyes return to WPIAL playoffs

Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review - Laurel Highlands right fielder Giuseppe Schiano tracks down a pop fly hit by Derry's Jon Garufi during their game at Derry High School on April 16, 2014. Laurel Highlands defeated Derry 11-0 in six innings.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Barry Reeger  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Laurel Highlands right fielder Giuseppe Schiano tracks down a pop fly hit by Derry's Jon Garufi during their game at Derry High School on April 16, 2014. Laurel Highlands defeated Derry 11-0 in six innings.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review - Laurel Highlands pitcher Colin McKee delivers to a Derry batter during their game at Derry High School on April 16, 2014. McKee struck out 11 batters and only gave up three hits as Laurel Highlands shut out Derry 11-0 in six innings.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Barry Reeger  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Laurel Highlands pitcher Colin McKee delivers to a Derry batter during their game at Derry High School on April 16, 2014. McKee struck out 11 batters and only gave up three hits as Laurel Highlands shut out Derry 11-0 in six innings.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review - Laurel Highlands' Troy Kifer scores as Derry catcher Cam Gerhard fields a throw home during their game at Derry High School on April 16, 2014. Laurel Highlands defeated Derry 11-0 in six innings.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Barry Reeger  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Laurel Highlands' Troy Kifer scores as Derry catcher Cam Gerhard fields a throw home during their game at Derry High School on April 16, 2014. Laurel Highlands defeated Derry 11-0 in six innings.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review - Laurel Highlands' Giuseppe Schiano scores as Derry catcher Cam Gerhard fields the late throw home during their game Wednersday, April 16, 2014, at Derry. Laurel Highlands defeated Derry, 11-0, in six innings.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Barry Reeger  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Laurel Highlands' Giuseppe Schiano scores as Derry catcher Cam Gerhard fields the late throw home during their game Wednersday, April 16, 2014, at Derry. Laurel Highlands defeated Derry, 11-0, in six innings.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 10:27 p.m.
 

Replacing a coaching legend can be difficult.

But Scott DeBerry is handling his new job as Laurel Highlands baseball coach better than expected. DeBerry replaced Tom Landman as coach in October when Landman resigned after spending the past 35 years as the Mustangs coach.

With two weeks left in the season, Laurel Highlands (8-0, 10-3) is looking to end a three-year postseason drought.

The Mustangs hold a three-game lead in Section 2-AAA after Tuesday's 4-1 win over Indiana (7-6, 5-3), with a game against Greensburg Salem (3-7, 3-3) set for Thursday.

There is no secret why the Mustangs have done so well. DeBerry said it all starts with doing the fundamentals well. DeBerry also has nine seniors that play a lot, and that experience is paying off.

“We have a good group of kids,” said DeBerry, who played for and coached with Landman. “They've done everything I've asked of them.

“The pitching has been good, the defense is improved and we're getting clutch hitting.”

The Mustangs are led by a trio of seniors: shortstop/pitcher Nick Lancaster; center fielder Drew DeBerry, the coach's son; and second baseman Teddy Sova. Other senior contributors include right fielder Giuseppe Schiano, pitcher/third baseman Colin McKee, pitcher/first baseman James Gabler, first baseman Corey Dascenzo and outfielders Kody Thomas and Steve Salanick.

Sophomore third baseman Dom Peroni is the Mustangs' top hitter, batting .469. Dascenzo is batting .433 with 12 RBIs and DeBerry is hitting .425 with 13 RBIs.

Pitching has been a big reason for the Mustangs success. DeBerry said McKee, Gabler, Lancaster and sophomore Zach Uhazie have pitched well.

“We have a deep pitching staff,” DeBerry said. “This group has the ability to pick each other up.

“We're an aggressive team. We practice that way, and it helps our defense when teams try to be aggressive against us. We're handling a lot of situations well. We've spent a lot of time working on our defense. We've already played three or four games without making an error.”

When DeBerry was hired, the first thing he did was get the players into the weight room. Then he got them speed and agility training.

“I attribute that to a lot of our success,” DeBerry said. “We're doing the little things right. These kids have been playing together for a year.

“I expected the team to be successful. We just had to learn how to win. A lot of teams around the area hope to win when they get off the bus. I want our team to expect to win.”

DeBerry said trying to convince the players to believe that is his biggest task.

Laurel Highlands hasn't made the WPIAL playoffs since 2010. The Mustangs are closing on their return, but DeBerry knows teams will be gunning for his team down the stretch.

“We're going to face every team's top pitcher,” DeBerry said. “I like that because it will show us where we're at.”

Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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