Jeannette keeps pace in Section 4-AA
At the start of the season, Jeannette baseball coach Markus Clarkson didn't know what to expect from Zack Altieri, or the rest of the team for that matter.
Altieri was named all-section in WPIAL Section 4-AA last season, but a rib injury forced him to make a big change heading into his junior year.
“It's something he was dealing with before Game 1,” Clarkson said. “He tried swinging the bat right-handed but just couldn't do it. But he said, ‘Coach I can swing left-handed,' and I thought, ‘Well, I need him on the field.' ”
After switching to the left side of the plate for the first time, Altieri is batting .370 and has been climbing toward .400, his coach said. His efforts have helped Jeannette (5-6, 4-4) keep pace in the section race, sitting third behind Class AA No. 2 ranked Steel Valley (11-1, 9-0) and Shady Side Academy (8-4, 7-1).
“It just shows you the kind of guts that he has to sacrifice for the team,” Clarkson said. “After this season is over, he's pretty much a switch-hitter.”
Altieri's identity wasn't the only one in question this year. Senior catcher Michael Wise has been his usually dominant self, and juniors Terell Canady and Tony Mash have added balance at the plate, but with just three seniors on the roster, plenty of positions have been for grabs. The outfield essentially has been a revolving door since players such as Canady, Blaze Tran and Matt Howard all spend time on the mound as well.
None of the current players have been to the playoffs, with Jeannette's last appearance coming in 2009, but that lack of experience hasn't affected their confidence. Throughout the season, player after player has stepped up to fill a role when called upon.
Saturday against section rival Southmoreland, freshman pitcher Michael Pompei got the start and led the Jayhawks to a 4-2 win.
“You'd like for those kids to get some JV games or nonsection games under their belt first, but with the weather situation, I had to put him into some section games,” Clarkson said. “He's got good stuff, and he's hit his spots. He's a very bright kid, and he's soaking it all in.”
The Jayhawks have section games remaining against Steel Valley, Shady Side Academy, East Allegheny and Greensburg Central Catholic. Realistically, Jeannette needs to win at least two of those, especially the game with fourth place GCC, to secure its playoff position, Clarkson said.
There still is plenty to be learned as the Jayhawks try to do just that.
“There have been a lot of different teams that I could kind of get the read on them early, but these guys I didn't,” Clarkson said. “The one thing I do know is it's a competitive group, and we won't give up. We might have some holes in some spots here and there, but we're coming along.
“Hopefully, it's all coming together at the right time.”
Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.