Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Laurel High’s Brandon Ritchie was a master on the mound.
The stage never was too big for the senior righthander. Opposing hitters looked baffled on a consistent basis. And, the WPIAL took note of his ability.
Ritchie delivered at the plate for the Spartans (10-8), too, earning the Lawrence County baseball MVP award.
Ritchie compiled a 6-1 record on the hill with 67 strikeouts, both were tops in the county. He added a 1.45 earned run average in 48 1/3 innings pitched over eight appearances.
“He was rock solid for us all year,” Laurel coach Eric Verdi said. “The only game he lost was against Riverside. We just made way too many errors for him in that game.
“He was our leader and we expected him to do that. He led us and carried the load. Brandon was our captain and our leader.”
The WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association honored Ritchie with the WPIAL Class AA Pitcher of the Year award.
“I’m just blessed to have an award like that,” Ritchie said. “There’s a lot of great pitchers out there and I was shocked and so very excited.”
Ritchie took the ball in the WPIAL Class AA playoff opener against Washington and spun a complete-game shutout in a 1-0 win. He allowed just two hits, walking one and striking out 13.
“I just love piching those big baseball games,” Ritchie said. “Anytime a coach gives me the ball and it’s a big stage, I just try to perform to the best of my abilities.”
Said Verdi, “One of the things we tried to do is set the standard with our pitching over the last six to eight years. We rely on our pitching and we rely on our No. 1 pitcher. Brandon was our No. 1 pitcher. We expected him to go out and hold the opponent down and he needed to be that lockdown guy for us. Brandon definitely did that for us.”
Ritchie will continue his academic and baseball career at NCAA Division I George Washington. He will major in biology in the pre-med program.
“George Washington found me in North Carolina playing for the Allegheny Pirates,” Ritchie said. “They liked what they saw on the mound and it was a gorgeous campus.
“I really want to go there for academics. They’re trying to turn their program around and I’m very excited to be a part of that.”
The Allegheny Pirates is described as a team for players who aspire to play college or professional baseball. The team has a reputation for being one of the elite fall baseball teams. He elected not to play football as a senior in favor of playing for the Pirates and showcasing his diamond talents.
“It was something that was always on the table for me,” Ritchie said of his opportunity to play for the Pirates. “I felt like it was the best choice to do that.
“I really missed football and I felt awful not playing. Choosing not to play football was something that was tough to do. But playing with the Pirates and that exposure was something I couldn’t pass up.”
At the plate, Ritchie batted .367 with 18 hits, 14 RBIs, two triples and a county-best three home runs.
“This was probably his most complete year as a hitter,” Verdi said. “He has always hit for power.
“This was the highest batting average he’s had for us; it was just an all-around really good year for Brandon.”
Not only did Ritchie beat Washington in the playoff game with his arm, he did it with his bat, too. Ritchie slugged a fourth-inning triple, driving in Josh Dando with the game’s lone run.
“This year, I took so many more swings in the offeason and it showed,” Ritchie said. “I felt a lot more comfortable. I felt more mature.
“I felt like I had to lead on the mound and at the plate, and that’s what I tried to do. It worked out. I had power and I hit for contact.”
Ritchie can bring the heat on the mound as well.
“Brandon has good velocity. They have him from anywhere from 89 to 91 (MPH),” Verdi said. “His best pitch is probably his changeup, and that’s right around 82 (MPH).
“He has great movement and it moves a ton. He throws a real good two-seam fastball, too, and his slider drops off the table.”
Said Ritchie, “A lot of the games, I can throw a fastball at any time and I can throw hard. I like my changeup. If i get that going then everything falls into place.”
Dando, a junior pitcher/second baseman, also earned all-star status for Laurel.
Dando led the team in batting (.404), runs scored (16) and hits (21) offensively. He added seven RBIs as well.
This was the first year Dando strolled to the plate exclusively. Verdi said Dando possibly batted a couple of times as a freshman and about a handful last year.
“I can’t say enough of how proud I am of Josh,” Verdi said. “He only played in the outfield his freshman year.
“He was our leading hitter this year. Josh grew up so much this year. He really made great contact most of the year for us and he really set the table.”
Verdi knew he had a capable player stationed at second base as well.
“He was very solid at second base and he has good hands, too,” Verdi said. “He’s a great athlete with great range.
“We’re looking for Josh to be our leader next year.”
On the mound, Dando paced the team in innings pitched (49 1/3) and appearances (9). Dando was 4-5 with a 2.41 ERA with 34 strikeouts.
“Josh is just solid on the mound,” Verdi said. “He won’t strike a lot of guys out. He pitches to contact.
“He has a good changeup, curveball and fastball. Josh will outwork you and outthink you. He will get you to hit his pitch. Josh pitched in some tough games and he lost two tough games to (WPIAL champion) Beaver.”
Verdi will turn to Dando next year to lead the rotation.
“Josh will be our ace next year,” Verdi said. “He has big shoes to fill with Brandon graduating. But I know the Dando genes. He’ll be ready.”
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