Southmoreland baseball looks to continue recent strides
When Brian Shipley began his second stint as coach of the Southmoreland baseball team in 2012, he inherited a team coming off a winless season. It has been a long process, but in the past two seasons, the Scotties have made significant strides back to respectability.
“We won 17 games (combined) in the past two years,” Shipley said, “so we have improved dramatically to get to this point.”
The Scotties won eight games in 2012, then followed up with nine wins in 2013. The goal this year will be to continue that upward trend, but Shipley pointed out success is certainly not guaranteed.
“It's yet to be seen,” he said. “It all depends because there are a lot of kids who haven't played that much varsity.”
With a number of unproven players, the Scotties expect to lean heavily on four returning lettermen — senior Brian Shaffer, juniors Chas King and Michael Baird and sophomore Doug Leighty.
Junior Max Ridenour also saw some varsity action last year. Shaffer, Baird, Leighty and Ridenour are the likely top pitching options. Shaffer and Baird were the top two pitchers in the rotation last season. When not on the hill, Shaffer will play shortstop and Baird likely will play first base or in the outfield. Leighty can hold down either corner infield position, and Ridenour figures to see a lot of playing time in the outfield.
No matter who is on the mound, they'll be throwing to King, who has started every game at catcher in each of the past two seasons.
“He has improved dramatically at catching, receiving, blocking and arm strength,” Shipley said.
All of these experienced players are expected to be some of the team's top hitters.
The rest of the lineup and the other positions on the field will be filled by players who have limited to no varsity experience.
“We have eight or nine guys that have yet to prove themselves, and they will be battling for four spots,” Shipley said.
With some big question marks still remaining, Shipley is hopeful the team can overcome early-season weather and get as much time on the field as possible.
“It's crucial for us to get our scrimmages in and then we have three exhibition games,” Shipley said. “By the time we start section games, I'd like to have a lineup set and these two weeks will determine where we are going to be.”
The Scotties will compete in Section 4-AA, and after posting a 3-9 section record last year, Shipley knows every section game will be a challenge.
“The section we are in is tough,” Shipley said, pointing out various strengths of section foes East Allegheny, Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette, Shady Side Academy, South Allegheny and Steel Valley. “There are no easy games.”
Shaffer is excited to see if the team can build off the confidence gained from winning nine games last season.
“We had a pretty good year last year, and everybody has a positive attitude,” Shaffer said. “We're working hard, and I think guys actually believe we can make it to the playoffs. That's what we want.”
Shipley is also hoping his team can take the next big positive step.
“It's our goal to get at least 10 wins, and we absolutely want to make the playoffs,” Shipley said. “Every team should have that goal. We want to be competitive and give ourselves a chance to win every game.”
The Scotties open the season with an exhibition game at home against Monessen on Tuesday.
Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. Reach him at email@example.com.