Yough Legion surging toward district playoffs
The 18-game District 31 Legion baseball season is coming to a dramatic conclusion this week … weather permitting. And like nearly every other season, the seeding for the postseason bracket will be determined in the last few regular-season games.
“There’s a lot of parity in the league,” said Yough Legion coach Craig Spisak, who also coaches the high school team. “They’re calling for rain every day this week. You just got to hope that it’s not raining over the field you’re playing on.”
Every team has plenty to play for heading down the stretch. The deadline to have all regular-season games completed is Sunday. Yough (8-6) has three games remaining on the schedule, including Bushy Run (12-3) at noon on Thursday and a doubleheader at Young Township (6-8) on Saturday. The Cougars edged Bushy Run at home, 4-3, in the first meeting.
“I tell the kids that we’re capable of losing to any team in the league and capable beating any team in the league,” Spisak said.
As it stands, Hempfield East (13-2-1), Bushy Run and Unity (9-5) round out the top three in the standings. Latrobe (8-6-1) and Yough are fourth and fifth, respectively. Young Township, Kiski Valley (6-9) and Murrysville (6-9) round out the top eight. The top eight teams in the 10-team district advance to the postseason. Mt. Pleasant (4-12) sits ninth and needs to win and get a little help out to have chance at a postseason berth. Derry (1-13) has been eliminated.
“For us, we could (finish) anywhere from third to eighth place,” Spisak said.
The Cougars could possibly be the most dangerous team in District 31 at the moment. Spisak has nearly every player from his Class 4A WPIAL semifinalist. With long high school playoffs, his team jumped right from high school ball over to Legion.
“Usually, we had that little break in between high school and Legion (season),” Spisak said. “Fortunately, we did well in the high school season and unfortunately, we didn’t have that at break in between.”
And, it began to show. Yough hit a wall in mid-June and went on a four-game losing streak. The breakdowns came on routine plays on defense and then there was the usual hitting lull as players learned to adjust from aluminum to wooden bats.
“The primary reason why we lost games was we had a couple of defenses lapses,” Spisak said. “The reason why we’re winning again is that our defense has improved. We just got back to fundamentals.”
The Cougars snapped the losing streak and haven’t lost since, riding a four-game win streak. The defense is back on track, and the hitting has returned making the Cougars sound in all three phases. The Cougars are peaking at just the right time.
“The past couple games we’ve been able to hit the ball,” Spisak said. “With kids this age, you hope that they continue to keep playing and improving.”
With former high school standout pitcher Jarrett Bach, a Pitt recruit, sitting out the season, the door is wide open for the next dominant pitcher to emerge. Spisak said Michael Bell could see a start in the postseason. Bell was Yough’s No. 2 pitcher during the high school season and needed to rest his shoulder for a few weeks.
Rising seniors Nate Wilkins and Steve Mano, along with rising juniors Sean Royer and Vinny Martin, have given Spisak a glimpse into the future.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise that we’ve been able to pitch our (high school team’s) third, fourth and fifth guys,” Spisak said.
Bell, along with rising senior Joel Nemec, has been the most consistent at the plate this season but contributions have come from up and down the lineup.
“The nice thing about this team is that they’re easy to coach,” Spisak said. “It filters from the parents, and they come from good families. The chemistry is really strong.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.