Freeport baseball riding high atop Section 3-AA
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Freeport baseball took a big step last year by winning a playoff game for the first time in 15 years.
With some new cast members, the sequel to last year's performance is shaping up to be even better.
The Yellowjackets enter the weekend in sole possession of first place in Section 3-AA, a position they've reached by being sound in every facet of the game.
Freeport (7-4, 7-1) began its season with a pair of nonsection losses, which might have been expected from a team that lost seven seniors who were all full- or part-time starters a year ago. But since section play began, the Yellowjackets have been rolling, including a 13-2 win over second-place Deer Lakes on Monday.
“I feel like there's not one person who's really the breakout star,” senior first baseman Matt Swartz said. “We're working great as a team. Everyone is contributing, and we're all doing our part.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the effectiveness of the Yellowjackets' pitching. Freeport entered the year with just 12 innings of varsity experience, 10 belonging to sophomore Nathan Pastorek.
But Pastorek and juniors Matt Van Tine and Ryan Eshenbaugh have been excellent in leading a staff that has a 2.86 team ERA — nearly identical to the 2.85 ERA of the senior-laden staff last year.
“I think we all came into the year ready. We've all worked hard over the winter, and it's showing,” Pastorek said. “I think when one of us goes out there, we all trust them, and if someone has a bad day, we know we have more pitchers ready to go.”
Pastorek went on to say having those three plus a pair of senior pitchers, Danny Fetchko and Hunter Fennell, makes it easier because no one in the bullpen is overworked.
“I'm really pleased with the work those guys have done. It's been a real team effort on the mound,” Freeport coach Chris Graczyk said. “There's no clear No. 1, and they like it that way. When they go out to pitch, they're all No. 1s.”
While inexperienced players have ruled the mound, experienced bats have sparked the offense.
Senior outfielder Noah Shannon leads Freeport with a .500 average, 13 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Swartz, who converted from catcher to first base this season, shares the team lead in hits with Shannon while batting .452 with 10 RBIs.
Fennell, junior Jake Lutz and sophomore Frank Stefko are all batting .400 or better with more than 25 at-bats as the Yellowjackets' lineup is dangerous from top to bottom.
“A lot of our team is sophomores, and if we didn't have them producing, the upperclass players wouldn't be able to be as successful. We're firing on all cylinders right now,” Swartz said.
The lone section setback for Freeport was an error-filled loss to Ford City, 5-4, but the team showed its confidence was unshaken by responding with three straight 10-run wins, including the Deer Lakes win.
With their momentum trending upward, the Yellowjackets now have their sights on a section title and beyond.
“I really think if we keep playing the way we are now, we're going to be a threat to go far in the playoffs,” Swartz said. “I think we're going to finish strong because we've got a ton of confidence right now.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.
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