Signal Item area baseball teams look to continue run of playoff berths
All three area baseball teams — Bishop Canevin, Carlynton and Chartiers Valley — made the WPIAL playoffs last season. But none lasted past the quarterfinals. They will look to rectify that this season. A look at each team:
The Crusaders are under the direction of first-year coach Bill Varley, who played and served as a graduate assistant at Marietta under legendary Division III coach Don Schaly. Varley was hired only in February, so he has had little time to get acquainted with his new team.
The good news is he has a core of six seniors who can help to ease the transition. Each will play an integral part this season: Josh Gmys (3B/P), Aiden Logan (P/1B/3B), Michael Aches (P/2B), Ted Maida (LF), Michael Seitz (RF/P) and Ryan Eisenbeis (1B/P).
“The six seniors … they have pleasantly surprised me because they are all what I would consider to be good high school players and mature beyond their age,” Varley said.
In addition to their new coach, the Crusaders will be in a new classification and section, dropping to Class A, Section 1. But Varley believes his team’s experience will help overcome all the unknowns.
“I think they have what it takes to go out and win baseball games mentally, physically and emotionally,” Varley said. “They expect a lot of themselves, and that’s what I find exciting.”
The Cougars’ playoff run last season started with a win over defending Class 2A champion California. But the Cougars squandered a a 4-1 lead and lost 8-4 to eventual champion North Catholic in the quarterfinals.
Carlynton is hoping for another crack at the playoffs, and if the Cougars make it, it would be their third straight postseason berth.
“We are inexperienced, but we have experience in the right places,” coach Frank Zebrasky said.
The team’s strength is up the middle with junior catcher Evan Staker, senior shortstop Dan Schultz, junior second baseman Mark Phillips and junior center fielder Chauncie Mickens. The corner infield spots are a bit of a question mark, but the players vying for those spots are returning lettermen, such as junior captain James Lukasewicz.
Zebrasky is figuring on needing a lot of pitchers, particularly given the unknowns of moving in to a new section (4-2A). The coach, however, is optimistic.
“We’re sort of excited because trying to make the playoffs three consecutive years is something that doesn’t happen around here too often,” he said.
Coach Curt Cairns never says the word “rebuild,” but the Colts might have to do a little of that with only one starter returning. Cairns will have four seniors to rely on, starting with pitcher/first baseman Jason Orzechowski, who figures to be the Colts’ No. 1 starter.
Fellow senior Noah Hughes also will pitch. Frank Peluso will play outfield and first base, and catcher Zach Kehren, even when he isn’t in the lineup, is one of the team leaders.
While Cairns isn’t writing off the possibility of another playoff trip this season, he can’t help but anticipate the future. He said he will work a number of freshmen into the lineup, and several, he said, likely will start before the season is over.
“You can’t expect a freshman to come up and hit with the big boys early, but we set the bar high for them,” he said.
Cairns said he purposely loaded CV’s nonsection schedule with tough competition — providing weather lets those games happen — to prepare them for the section. He is confident the young team will be ready when the important games come around.
“We’ll kind of unwrap the presents like Christmas,” Cairns said.
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .