Steel Valley's Vickers captures coach of year honors
It wasn't long ago that Steel Valley didn't want Tim Vickers.
Actually, it was four years ago when the baseball coaching position was opened by the school board despite a playoff season and a roster full of a talented incoming freshmen.
Luckily for Steel Valley, nobody wanted the job … except for Vickers.
Vickers was brought back after nobody applied, and little did anybody know at the time, it turned out to be the key event that set in motion what would awaken a community starving for a winner.
The program last season won its first section title in nearly two decades followed by the best season in school history.
Steel Valley won its first WPIAL championship with a dramatic walk-off winner in the Class AA title game against Seton-La Salle, and for that, Vickers is the 2014 Daily News Baseball Coach of the Year.
“What an amazing season,” Vickers said. “Honestly, people ask me how we did it, and I just tell them it was just their time.”
Vickers outdistanced West Mifflin's Jeff Smith, and joins Serra Catholic's Brian Dzurenda and Elizabeth Forward's Frank Champ as the only back-to-back winners in the decade of the award.
“We had the best preparation of any team I have ever been on,” junior pitcher Brandon Donovan said. “He was the best coach that I ever had. We all knew at the beginning of the season that we had a talented team that could go far but he didn't want us getting cocky. He didn't want us to get overconfident and didn't want us to become complacent.”
The Ironmen never got complacent on their way to an 18-3 record that included 11 consecutive wins to start the year.
“These kids are talented and deserve all the credit,” Vickers said.
Even though Vickers, who has a 91-56-1 record in eight years, is well within his rights to take personal gratification from going from unwanted to a championship-winning coach in a couple of years, he refuses to dwell on the past.
And Vickers refused to change what he did even after being pushed out four years ago.
“My assistant coach Pat Loughran is incredible, and we work well together,” Vickers said. “My personal gratification isn't about showing people I can coach. It is seeing the kids succeed at the level that they did and the community to get back to way it was.”
Vickers points back to last year as the turning point and the fuel that powered Steel Valley to the championship.
The Ironmen won their first section title in 19 years, but lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs to Chartiers-Houston.
“That loss last year they took to heart,” Vickers said. “They took it upon themselves to do everything in their power to make sure that it didn't happen again.”
With seven returning starters, Steel Valley was expected to compete for a championship but it wasn't until a comeback win over Greensburg Central Catholic that Vickers thought this team had a shot at greatness. It was solidified during a quarterfinal playoff win over Riverside.
A pair of 1-0 wins sandwiched around a 14-7 victory over Riverside put Steel Valley into the championship game against Seton-La Salle where the Ironmen found themselves down 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh with two outs.
That's when the four-year teaching of Vickers resonated the most.
“It went back on what I taught for four years and how much we stressed letting the ball get deep in the zone, having a two-strike approach, be short to the ball, go the other way with it,” Vickers said. “Those last two hitters did just that, and we won the WPIAL championship.”
Bryce Varhola's single scored the tying runs, and Jesse Cantley's run-scoring shot to the opposite field plated the title-winning run.
“Looking back on it, it was absolutely sweeter winning that way, but being part of it, absolutely not,” Vickers said. “It was an unbelievable feeling seeing those kids celebrate. That's where I take my gratification from.”