Pitchers carrying the load early for Kiski Valley Legion
In a wooden bat league like District 31 American Legion, having good pitching is usually more than half the battle, and Kiski Valley coach Den Montgomery has confidence in whomever he gives the ball to on the mound.
The hope is that the Vikings offense can catch up to the rotation to make them even more dangerous as the season progresses.
Sean Furlong and Tyler Johnson already have shown the ability to shut down opponents.
Johnson tossed a seven-strikeout no-hitter in a 6-0 win against Jeannette on May 31, and Furlong had an 83-pitch complete-game masterpiece in a 5-0 blanking of Unity six days earlier.
Their performances early on have been magnified while the team works through some issues at the plate.
Montgomery is counting on the quality pitching to continue to help keep the team afloat while a mostly new group of hitters adjusts to swinging wood bats.
The Vikings were 3-3 through Thursday.
“Our pitching has been very good,” Montgomery said. “We felt like we gave a couple of those games away and we could be 5-1, but given our lack of offense early on, that'd be a mirage. Three and three is probably where we should be at.”
Montgomery runs the team with his twin brother Dave. Both of them will be inducted into the PA American Legion Hall of Fame in July in Boyertown.
Johnson, an Armstrong graduate, played baseball at Butler County Community College this spring. Furlong was one of Freeport's top pitchers this season and plans to be a walkon with the IUP baseball team in the fall. He isn't a pitcher posts high-velocity numbers on the radar gun or one who racks up strikeout numbers, but he's a pitcher in the truest sense, using location and changing speeds to baffle hitters.
“I hit my spots well with all my pitches,” Furlong said. “I try to get movement on them, because I know I don't throw as fast as some pitchers. I'm not a strikeout guy, but I know my role and I know what to do to be successful.”
Furlong turned in another good outing in a 6-5 extra-innings loss to Hempfield East on Sunday. Montgomery said Furlong has developed into a deceptive force for the Vikings.
“He's kind of got a build like (former San Francisco Giants pitcher) Tim Lincecum where you look at him and say to yourself ‘What can he do?' ” Montgomery said. “He's sneaky fast. He sits around 82-83 with his fastball, and he's smart. He pitches. He doesn't just throw, and that's allowed him to be competitive.”
Freeport's Jarrett Heilman and Armstrong's Jordan Dillard are starters, and Armstrong's Eddie Morris will be used in relief in what is a deep pitching staff. Montgomery has confidence in all of them to give good innings.
Armstrong's Dawson Porter boosts an offense that is comprised mainly of new players outside of Furlong, Johnson and St. Joseph grad Jordan Van Thiel. Porter, a Westminster recruit for baseball and football, has shown good leadership to go with his hitting ability.
“Dawson is the real deal,” Montgomery said. “He's a better person than he is an athlete, and he's an amazing athlete. It's a pleasure to have him around, and I think the kids really follow his lead, because he comes to play.”
The Vikings lost middle-of-the-order hitters Frankie Stefko and Jon Thomas, as well as Andy Fennell. Newcomers like Leechburg catcher Anthony Mangee, whom Montgomery described as raw but very coachable, are working to become more competitive at the plate.
“They're all learning the system,” Montgomery said. “We're not suggesting this is the minor leagues, but it's an upgrade to what most of the kids have seen. You can see the adjustments they're going through. It'll take some time.”
Montgomery called the Vikings “a middle-of-the-road” team in its current state, but there's room to climb the standings in what appears to be a fairly balanced league. Eight of the 12 teams make the playoffs.
“Every year we compete well, and we expect to do that this year,” Furlong said. “We've done that so far, but not everything has gone our way. I think that'll change for us as the year goes on. We can be a playoff team and hopefully make a run.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.