Happ's effort contagious for Mt. Lebanon baseball
Even at 11 years old, Ian Happ wanted to work.
Sure, Happ hung around Mt. Lebanon's 2006 WPIAL Class AAAA champion baseball team because his older brother, Chris, was the squad's stud third baseman and leadoff hitter, but the younger Happ didn't just gawk at the older Blue Devils — he fielded with them.
As if it was completely normal for a sixth-grader to play varsity baseball, Happ would stand next to his brother, field grounders and whip throws across the diamond to Penn State-bound first baseman Jordan Steranka.
“That taught me a lot,” said Happ, who started at shortstop as a freshman. “Just seeing how hard those guys played and how together they played really made an impression on me.”
Now, Happ wouldn't mind being on the other end of that equation.
The Cincinnati recruit is one of 12 seniors on Mt. Lebanon's roster, and he's hitting near .500 with three home runs, 15 RBI and 15 runs scored — numbers that not only indicate how serious Happ takes his craft but also the impact he's had on the Blue Devils this season.
“You see some kids who play, and baseball is an important part of their lives, so they give it everything they have,” Mt. Lebanon coach Patt McCloskey said. “But Ian takes that to a new level.”
McCloskey marvels at describing Happ's summer routine. Morning hitting, fielding or both at Mt. Lebanon's private practice facility, a warehouse-type building located above a print shop in Upper St. Clair. Playing summer ball with the Steel City Wildcats, an elite travel team. Sometimes even arriving at “The Place” — the players' nickname for the obscure setup — late at night to get a strength workout in.
Mt. Lebanon is 8-6 overall, 5-2 in Section 3-AAAA entering today's home game against Baldwin. But take a look at the third-place Blue Devils' schedule, and two things become clear.
One, the team has yet to lose consecutive games, which can be attributed to its considerable experience, and it has also played a brutal nonsection schedule, going 3-4 in games against the defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion, three Class AAA semifinalists and a group that was 102-44-1 last spring.
“The level of teams we're playing has helped keep things in perspective,” McCloskey said.
So, too, has the coach's father, Ed McCloskey, a Mt. Lebanon baseball legend whom Patt plucked out of retirement after two stints as a head coach and one more as an assistant.
“He's 74 years old, and the connection he makes with the kids is unbelievable,” Patt McCloskey said.
Besides Happ, third baseman Anthony Paladino is hitting .364, and Brad Bekampis isn't far behind at .333. First baseman Jack Faett (.306) trails only Happ with 10 RBI. Zack Bahm (4-2, 2.45 ERA) and Mike Duffy (3-0, 3.70) have anchored the pitching staff, combining for 44 strikeouts against 22 walks in 57 1⁄3 innings.
But as good as anyone else has been, it's Happ, all grown up, who's carrying the Blue Devils to what they hope is their first WPIAL title since 2006.
“He takes every rep in practice like it's a game, and that rubs off,” said senior outfielder Luke Hagy, himself a three-sport star who's no stranger to a little extra effort. “People see him and other guys going hard in practice, and it makes them work and practice a lot harder. That's a huge reason we've been so successful this year.”
Jason Mackey is a freelance writer.