Pitching, fielding keys for Greensburg Salem
Greensburg Salem baseball coach James Stewart became the dean of coaching in Westmoreland County last month after Greensburg Central Catholic decided to let go alumnus Jack Korpar after 24 years of leading the program.
Stewart, who begins his 19th season at Greensburg Salem, is looking forward to the season, and has reason to be excited.
The Golden Lions return five starters from last year's squad that finished second in Section 2-AAA and won a WPIAL Class AAA playoff game while going 12-4 overall.
Back are ace pitcher Michael Nowicki, catcher John Szmed, third baseman Max Ponzurick, outfielder Sam Mattei and pitcher Brandon Rowland.
Nowicki, who will be playing at Seton Hill next year, was 6-1 with an earned run average of 2.43. He also hit .412. Rowland posted a 3-1 record with an ERA of 2.92.
"It looks like we can hit the ball," Stewart said. "We had 15 hits against GCC."
Szmed, a senior, missed his junior season while recovering from an injury. He batted .395 as a sophomore. Ponzurick is a power-hitting sophomore. He's already banged out three doubles this season.
But the key to the season will be pitching and fielding. Nowicki is off to a slow start at 0-2.
In the opener against Hempfield, he gave up several bloop hits. In Monday's loss to Belle Vernon, the Golden Lions committed three costly errors.
Belle Vernon is the pick of some coaches in the section as the team to beat. Mt. Pleasant, Greensburg Salem, Derry Area and Elizabeth Forward are expected to be in the playoff chase.
"Baseball is a funny game," Stewart said. "We gave the game away against Belle Vernon, but I'm confident we'll bounce back.
"This is a funny group to coach. I like their attitude and work ethic. They push each other. Michael and John are good leaders."
Stewart said there is a good mixture of seniors and sophomores on the squad. Outfielder Kyle Renk is the only junior on the team.
Stewart will be counting on several seniors -- second baseman Wil Maschmeyer, outfielder Craig Walor, outfielder Sam Morris, outfielder Mike Cesare and first baseman Rege Garris -- to have big seasons, while outfielder Greg Neumann, pitcher Pat Boyer and outfielder Marc Flickinger, all sophomores, will push for playing time.
"This is a balanced section," Stewart said. "It's going to be tough for any team to duplicate what Elizabeth Forward did last year. That was a great team."
The Warriors won 23 consecutive games before falling in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals.