Baseball Season Preview: Dallas, Holy Redeemer marked teams as they try to return to state finals

Dave Rosengrant - For Times Leader
The Dallas Mountaineers hold up the 2017 PIAA Class 4A baseball championship trophy after defeating South Park 5-0 in State College last season. - Bill Tarutis file photo | For Times Leader
Dallas pitcher Nick Kocher will give the Mountaineers an experienced arm on the mound. - Bill Tarutis file photo | For Times Leader
Holy Redeemeer’s Sean Wills is back with a Royals team that hopes to make a second straight run to the Class 3A state championship game. - Bill Tarutis file photo | For Times Leader
Wyoming Area’s Marc Minichello returns for the Warriors after leading the WVC Division 2 with a .440 batting average last season. - - red Adams file photo | For Times Leader

It’s beginning to look a lot like baseball season.

Well, maybe not yet. But it will soon enough, and the calendar states that it is time to play ball.

The Wyoming Valley Conference, which is coming off a banner year last season with a state champion in Dallas and a state runner-up in Holy Redeemer, begins play today.

First pitches in the WVC season will be thrown Tuesday for 10 of the conference’s 18 teams, with five games on the dock.

When the last pitches of the 2017 campaign was thrown, the conference made history with a pair of state finalists in the same season for the first time ever.

The Royals were the third team in the last seven years from the conference to finish second in the state. The Mountaineers joined the 2008 Berwick squad as the only teams from the league to ever win state titles.

Even though the label of defending state champions will follow the Mountaineers around all season – and with nine players who saw action in that game returning – the song remains the samefor Dallas coach Ken Kashatus.

“Nothing changes,” Kashatus said. “You’re still dealing with weather and gyms, student-athletes, booster clubs, parents, ADs and principals, and nothing changes.

“Me personally, on the inside it makes me feel good as the CEO of a baseball program that won a state title, but for the next year, we’re trying to retool, reload and make adjustments while dealing with the facilities we have.”

AROUND DIVISION 1

It couldn’t have gotten any closer last year with Crestwood claiming the division title by finishing just one game better than the other four teams. Coughlin, Wyoming Valley West, Pittston Area and Hazleton Area all have several talented players returning and will look to knock off the Comets.

Crestwood may have the most senior leadership of the five squads, but if last year is any indication of how the standings play out this year, the division title is up for grabs.

AROUND DIVISION 2

Much like Division 1, parity was the story of last season in D2 as well. Dallas claimed the division title in a tiebreaker game over Tunkhannock, while Berwick and Wyoming Area finished a game behind. The Mountaineers, Tigers and Bulldogs all return several top players from last season, while the Warriors lost many to graduation and have a new coach in Rob Lemoncelli.

That’s where the other divisional foe Nanticoke Area comes into play. The Trojans were young last year. With a year of playing together under their belts, the Trojans can make the division even closer this year.

AROUND DIVISION 3

Defending champion Meyers was a game better than Holy Redeemer in the standings, but the Royals made it further in the postseason. That will just make for a better rivalry game when they meet on April 18 and again on May 8.

Lake-Lehman and Hanover Area were both just one game behind the Royals in the standings and the teams return plenty of experience from last year. Wyoming Seminary, which has a new coach in Joe Phillips, and GAR, in a bit of a rebuild, will look to get hot come playoff time. MMI Prep and Northwest Area were at the bottom of the division last season, but return a plethora of players and will make the standings more interesting in 2018.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS

When it comes to pitchers in the conference, there was none better in Division 1 last year than Wyoming Valley West’s Nate Baranski, who led the division in ERA (1.05), strikeouts (42) and innings pitched (40). A close second on the list is Berwick’s Jared Marshman out of Division 2. Marshman tossed 31 2/3 innings, tied for most in the division, while fanning 37 and posting an ERA of 1.33. Over in Division 3, returning to the mound is Hanover Area’s Matt Clarke. He is the top returning starter in the division, having put up stellar numbers in ERA (1.25), with more than a strikeout (37) per inning (33 2/3).

All three can also handle the bat, with Clarke leading the way for the trio at the plate after posting a .324 batting average last year.

The top two hitters in terms of batting average returning in Division 1 both play for Crestwood. Colin Macko and Justin Darden both hit .362 a year ago for the Comets.

Wyoming Area’s Marc Minichello is the top returning hitter from D2 after posting an average of .455 a year ago. Tunkhannock’s Nick Reposa and Matt Goodwin both hit at or over .400 in the division.

Wyoming Seminary’s Michael Oravic had the best batting average last year of any returning player in 2018 when he hit a lusty .513 a year ago playing in Division 3.

KEY DATES

Monday, May 28: District 2 Championship games at PNC Field, Moosic; Monday, June 4: First round of PIAA Championships; June 14-15: PIAA Championships Finals at Medlar Field, Penn State University.

Tom Robinson contributed to this article.

WVC Baseball Capsules

Division 1

(State classification in parenthesis)

Coughlin (5A)

Coach: Moe Rodzinak

2017 WVC record: 7-6 (lost in District 2 quarterfinals)

Home Field: Hilldale Park, Main Street, Plains Twp.

Key Returning Players: T.J. Wozniak, Sr.; Tony Egidio, Jr.; Ben Yozwiak, Jr.; Darryn Marek, Sr.; George Oko, Sr.; Jason Rodriguez, Jr.

Outlook: The Crusaders lost their top two hitters and top three pitchers from last year’s squad. But Rodzinak always has the team in contention come playoff time. Egidio batted over .300 in 10 games a year ago, while Wozniak played in 13 games and pitched in four games. The experience of all the returning players will only get better as the season progresses.

Crestwood (5A)

Coach: Tony Caladie

2017 WVC record: 8-5 (Division 1 champion, District 2 runner-up)

Home Field: Mountain Post 581, Church Road, Rice Twp.

Key Returning Players: Colin Macko, Sr.; Brett Caladie, Sr.; Justin Darden, Sr.; Anthony Kovalchik, Sr.; Evan Knapp, Sr.; Corey Chalk, Sr.; Connor Kaminski, Sr.; Wyatt Kindler, Sr.;

Outlook: A senior-laden team, the Comets will be in position to repeat on last year’s performance, if not exceed that outcome. Darden led the team in hits and extra-base hits a year ago, while Macko not only hit over .300, he was also second on the team in innings pitched, tied for the team lead with two wins and posted an ERA under 2.00.

Hazleton Area (6A)

Coach: Gino Cara

2017 WVC record: 7-6 (lost in quarterfinals of District 2-4 subregional)

Home Field: Antinozzi Field, East 22nd Street, Hazleton

Key Returning Players: Chris Heim, Sr.; Ryan Pietrzyk, Sr.; Alex Klein, Sr.; Brady Antolick, Jr.; Scott Shamany, Sr.; Alex Amentler, Jr.

Outlook: The Cougars outscored opponents 48-35 last season and still managed a record of one game over .500. Take out a shutout loss to Pittston Area early in the first game of the season and the numbers are even better. Antolick returns after only allowing three earned runs in 21 innings a year ago. Heim, an outfielder, led the Cougars in runs scored a year ago.

Pittston Area (5A)

Coach: Paul Zaffuto

2017 WVC record: 7-6 (lost in District 2 semifinals)

Home Field: Pittston Area Primary Center, Rock Street, Hughestown

Key Returning Players: Hunter Ralston, Jr.; Kyle Ralston, Sr.; Joe Stella, Jr.; Alex McAndrew, Sr.; Dylan Spurlin, Sr.

Outlook: Zaffuto, now in his 19th year at the helm, always has his team in the thick of things when it comes time for the postseason. This year won’t be any different with the Ralstons anchoring the pitching staff coming off solid seasons last year. Zaffuto believes his team has the potential to be explosive on offense, which could help lead the team back to the top of the disrict.

“As far as our lineup goes, I know we’re going to be able to hit the upper-echelon pitching (-wise) and we’re going to be able to score enough runs,” he said..

Wyoming Valley West (5A)

Coach: John Milius

2017 WVC record: 7-6 (lost in District 2 semifinals)

Home Field: Spartan Stadium, North Gates Avenue, Kingston

Key Returning Players: Zach Kobusky, Nate Baranski, Pat Adamski, Austin Sienkiewicz, Jake Packer, Stephen Banas

Outlook: The Spartans were one of three teams in the division to finish one game behind division winner Crestwood last year. Baranski, the team’s No. 1 pitcher last season, returns to lead the staff once again. Adamski was a solid No. 2 behind Baranski. With two of the top arms in the division, the Spartans will be in the same position as last year, if not better off.

Division 2

Berwick (4A)

Coach: Brian Pinterich

2017 WVC record: 6-7 (lost in District 2 semifinals)

Home Field: North Berwick Field, Heights Road, Berwick

Key Returning Players: Jared Marshman, Sr.; Kaleb Gearinger, Jr.; Ian Kishbaugh, Jr.; Kevin Tanribilir, Sr.; Henry Novicki, Jr.

Outlook: Marshman is one of the top returning players in the conference as the Bulldogs’ ace last year, posting five wins and three complete games while striking out more than a batter per inning. He was the team’s top run-producer. In what is once again expected to be a close division race, Berwick should be right in the mix yet again.

Dallas (4A)

Coach: Ken Kashatus

2017 WVC record: 7-6 (Division 1, District 2 and PIAA Champions)

Home Field: High School

Key Returning Players: Nick Kocher, Sr.; Darren Kerdesky, Jr.; Mike Luksic, Jr.; Will McCrum, Jr.; Drew Patton, Sr.; Mike Collins, Matt Mathers, Sr.; Josh Lydon, Sr.

Outlook: The Mountaineers enjoyed a streak unlike any other in Wyoming Valley Conference history last year when they started out 2-6 then went on a season-ending 13-game winning streak all the way to the state title. With most of the starting lineup returning from last year’s run, the team will have high expectations, but will also have a target on the back of the jersey as other teams will be looking to knock off a state champion. Look for the experience from last year to play a big role in the team’s quest this season.

Nanticoke (4A)

Coach: Joe Yudichak

2017 WVC record: 3-10 (lost in District 2 quarterfinals)

Home Field: High School

Key Returning Players: Kris Rynkiewicz, Sr.; Trahjan Krupinski, Jr.; Derek Kurkowski, Sr.; Tyler Pokrinchak, Jr.; Austin Norton, Jr.; Evan Stecco, Sr.

Outlook: Unfortunately for the Trojans, they were the team that was left out of the cluster of last year’s standings. This year, they return a nice core of players led by Rynkiewicz, who led the team in hitting last season with a .350 average. Meanwhile, Butczynski led the team in appearances on the mound. With another year of experience, the Trojans should be able to improve on last year’s mark.

Tunkhannock (4A)

Coach: Gary Custer

2017 WVC record: 7-6 (lost in District 2 semifinals)

Home Field: High School

Key Returning Players: Matt Goodwin, Sr.; Donnie Faux, Sr.; Tyler Faux, Jr.; Dylan Mislevy, Jr.; Nick Reposa, Jr.; Jake Stephens, Jr.; C.J. Wright, Jr.; David Baltrusaitis, So.

Outlook: The Tigers went to a tie-breaking game for the division title against Dallas and lost by just one run. They then advanced to the district semifinals. Goodwin and Reposa both hit over .400 last year and were in the top five in the division in the category. Goodwin was also the No. 2 pitcher on the team a year ago. With many players returning from last season, the team is expected to be right back in competition for the division and district title once again.

Wyoming Area (4A)

Coach: Rob Lemoncelli

2017 WVC record: 6-7 (lost in District 2 quarterfinals)

Home Field: Atlas Field, Erie Street, West Pittston

Key Returning Players: Marc Minichello, Sr.; Dylan Melberger, Sr.; C.J. Rome, Sr.; Matt Wright, Sr.

Outlook: The Warriors graduated a dozen players from last year’s squad, including eight starters. That makes for a big task for first-year coach Lemoncelli, who takes over for Ron Musto. But the team still returns outfielder Minichello, who had a batting average of .440 last season, good enough to lead the division. On the mound, Melberger led the team in appearances. So there is some experience returning. But with a few other more experienced teams in the division, it will be hard for the Warriors to win the division. But they should be competitive in every game.

Division 3

GAR (3A)

Coach: Kyle Paul

2017 WVC record: 6-8 (lost in District 2 quarterfinals)

Home Field: Coal Street Park, Wilkes-Barre

Key Returning Players: Simon Peter, Sr.; George Placencio, Jr.; Jared O’Day, Jr.; Ronald Peguero, Sr.; Jared Soto, Sr.; Miguel Disla, Sr.; Yohanser Rosario, Sr.

Outlook: With the team’s top five hitters from last year, and three of the top four pitchers in appearances a year ago graduating, the Grenadiers are a young team and in a bit of a rebuild. But Paul said he’s hoping for his team to build as the season progresses.

“I’m looking for some of the veteran players to step up and help guide some of these younger guys. At times this year, we will feature three freshmen on the field. Overall, this team will continue to improve weekly and we are hoping to be playing our best baseball come district playoff time.”

Hanover Area (3A)

Coach: Mike Zapotoski

2017 WVC record: 9-5 (lost in first round of District 2 tournament)

Home Field: High School

Key Returning Players: Matt Clarke, Sr.; Sean Hart, Sr.; Mike Piscotty, Sr.; E.J. Murphy, Jr.; Brett Stevens, Sr.; Max Mendrejezki, Jr.

Outlook: Clarke was one of the top pitchers in the division last year, averaging more than a strikeout per inning, throwing two complete games and finishing with an ERA a few ticks over 1.00. Combined that with a batting average over .300, and he’s one of the top all-around players in the division. The Hawkeyes had a solid record a year ago and outscored opponents by nearly 30 runs. With a good group of core players back, the same type of season — if not an improved one — is within reach.

Holy Redeemer (3A)

Coach: Chris Ritsick

2017 WVC record: 10-4 (District 2 champion, PIAA runner-up)

Home Field: Hollenback Park, North Washington Street, Wilkes-Barre

Key Returning Players: Mykolas Bozentka, Sr.; David Wickiser, Jr.; Sean Wills, Sr.; Tucker Ell, Sr.; Tom Borum, Sr.; Dalton Preston, So.; Colin Conway, So.

Outlook: Redeemer lost three senior captains and three other seniors from last year’s run to the state championship game. Borum leads the hitters returning. He batted nearly .350 in divisional games last year, while Wills was third on the team in starts on the mound. It’s always tough for teams to return to the state title contest. But if the team can gel as the season progresses, anything is possible.

Lake-Lehman (3A)

Coach: Len Sincavage

2017 WVC record: 9-5 (lost in District 2 quarterfinals)

Home Field: High School

Key Returning Players: Chris Hadsall, Sr.; Henry Selingo, Sr.; Jacob Wesley, Sr.; Matt Kurtz, Sr.; Alex Magdalinski, So.; C.J. Cercone, Jr.; Kyle Sincavage, So.

Outlook: Returning several contributing players from last year’s team, including Hadsall and Wesley – who were two of the top three hitters on the squad – and Selingo and Magdalinski (the team’s top two starters), the Black Knights should be near the top of the standings once again. Hadsall also got some starts on the hill last year and led the team in earned run average.

Meyers (3A)

Coach: Matt Skrepenak

2017 WVC record: 11-3 (Division 3 champs, lost in District 2 semifinals)

Home Field: Gibby Field, Gordon Avenue, Wilkes-Barre

Key Returning Players: Nick Pugh, Sr.; Kyle Ostrowski, Sr.; Anthony Macko, Jr.; Caden Strobel, Jr.; Kenny Macko, Sr.; Luke Bottger, So.

Outlook: The defending division champions return experienced players from last year as they aim to repeat. But with other teams on the rise, it surely will not be an easy task. Macko hit close to .400 last year, while Bottger was close to .350 and also was the team’s No. 2 starter while averaging more than a strikeout per inning.

MMI (A)

Coach: Ryan Jastremsky

2017 WVC record: 2-12 (District 2 runner-up)

Home Field: MMI Athletic Complex, Cedar Street, Freeland

Key Returning Players: George Palermo, Sr.; Marcus Kassick, So.; Lance Book, So.; A.J. Jordan, So.; Christian Yamulla, So.; Mike Badamo, Sr.; Marc Lobitz, Sr.; Keefer Hoover, Jr.

Outlook: Playing in Class A, the Preppers reached the district championship game a year ago. This time around, the team has most of its starters back from that contest and should be in the same position. As for the division, it’s always a little tougher, but with another year of experience, an improvement on last season’s record should be within reach.

Northwest Area (2A)

Coach: Lou DiPasquale

2017 WVC record: 3-11 (lost in District 2 quarterfinals)

Home Field: High School

Key Returning Players: David Piestrak, Jr.; Adam Bukavich, Sr.; Brandon Hardiman, Sr.; Joey Ridgely, So.; Camdon Capece, Jr.; Connor Hazlet, Jr.; Curtis Gregory, Jr.; John Krzywicki, Jr.

Outlook: Last year was a bit of a rebuilding year for the Rangers. This year, they’re ready to compete — with a plethora of returning starters back including five of the top six batters from last year and their top two starters in Hardiman and Piestrak.

Wyoming Seminary (3A)

Coach: Joe Phillips

2017 WVC record: 6-8 (lost in first round of District 2 tournament)

Home Field: Nesbitt Stadium, Schuyler Avenue, Kingston

Key Returning Players: Michael Oravic, Sr.; Sam Sweitzer, Sr.; Caleb Jerome, Sr.; Todd Phillips, So.; Kyle Hromisin, Jr.; Zane Nardone, Jr.

Outlook: First-year coach Phillips takes over for Brian Kaschak after being an assistant for the team last year and holding previous posts for Back Mountain Little League, among many others. He will look to improve a Blue Knights team that returns its top two pitchers in appearances from last year in Hromisin and Nardone. The top three batters on the team from last year, Oravic, Sweitzer and Jerome also are back and the team should be in position to make a run at the division and district titles this season.

The Dallas Mountaineers hold up the 2017 PIAA Class 4A baseball championship trophy after defeating South Park 5-0 in State College last season.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_DallasBaseball.jpgThe Dallas Mountaineers hold up the 2017 PIAA Class 4A baseball championship trophy after defeating South Park 5-0 in State College last season. Bill Tarutis file photo | For Times Leader

Dallas pitcher Nick Kocher will give the Mountaineers an experienced arm on the mound.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_Dallas-AthensBB_1CMYK.jpgDallas pitcher Nick Kocher will give the Mountaineers an experienced arm on the mound. Bill Tarutis file photo | For Times Leader

Holy Redeemeer’s Sean Wills is back with a Royals team that hopes to make a second straight run to the Class 3A state championship game.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_red_loy2_faaCMYK.jpgHoly Redeemeer’s Sean Wills is back with a Royals team that hopes to make a second straight run to the Class 3A state championship game. Bill Tarutis file photo | For Times Leader

Wyoming Area’s Marc Minichello returns for the Warriors after leading the WVC Division 2 with a .440 batting average last season.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_PA-WA-Baseball-PNC-CMYK.jpgWyoming Area’s Marc Minichello returns for the Warriors after leading the WVC Division 2 with a .440 batting average last season. red Adams file photo | For Times Leader
Dallas, Redeemer now targets while trying to return to state finals

Dave Rosengrant

For Times Leader

Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143

Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143