New Castle News

July 1, 2012

High School Baseball All-Stars: Talent abounds on county’s diamonds

Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The Ellwood City Lincoln High baseball team came into the season focused.

The Wolverines went 15-5 in 2011, but missed the WPIAL playoffs on a tiebreaker.

“They were determined. Unfinished business is what they said,” Ellwood City coach Jeff Fotia said. “That was our motto from day one. That was something the team came up with.”

The Wolverines parlayed that belief into a 21-3 record and a WPIAL Class AA championship. Ellwood City beat rival Riverside once in the regular season to share the Section 5 title and again in the district title tilt as well.

But North Star shut down the Wolverines in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, 2-0, to end their season. The state playoff blanking came after scoring 36 runs in three WPIAL playoff games.

“The guys had a great season, but we lost a heartbreaker down the stretch,” Fotia said. “I’m sure they’re happy. They were real happy with the WPIAL title.

“But they were real depressed about not moving on in the state playoffs.”

Four Ellwood City senior players received Lawrence County all-star status — Christian Kerns, Anthony Carusone, Greg Lynn and Jared Vetica.

Fotia leaned heavily on Kerns in the postseason, as he started all four of the Wolverines’ games.

“We just always felt like we were going to win with him on the mound,” Fotia said of Kerns. “I felt it wasn’t going to be a field day for the other team.

Kerns, a lefthanded pitcher and Fotia’s nephew, was 11-3 with 94 strikeouts in 761⁄3 innings pitched. He had a 1.83 earned run average. Kerns gave up just two earned runs in his three losses, two were by shutout — 1-0 to Riverside and the North Star setback.

“What makes him tough is he drops down and can create a lot of movement away,” Fotia said. “He can throw the slow curve and he has a nice fastball; his curveball and changeup are strong as well.

“He was a tough luck loser in all three of his losses.”

At the plate, Kerns fashioned a .424 average with a homer and 19 RBIs.

“He has confidence at the plate,” Fotia said. “He has quick hands and he has good power to the gaps.”

Carusone completed the Wolverines’ strong 1-2 punch on the mound. A righty, Carusone was 7-0 with a save in 482⁄3 innings pitched. He struck out 41 and recorded a 1.01 ERA.

Carusone played third when he wasn’t on the hill.

“Anthony has good velocity; he’s about identical with Kerns,” Fotia said. “He has a good fastball, a good changeup and a good curveball. They both keep the ball down.

“It was nice to have a righty and a lefty we could throw in there. He’s a good competitor.”

Carusone cashed in a .388 batting average with 18 RBIs.

“He was our No. 4 hitter and he never batted an eye,” Fotia said. “He has power and he can hit the curveball.”

Vetica, a left fielder, hit .417 with nine RBIs.

“Jared is a great team leader,” Fotia said. “He has great hands and he was always a great outfielder.

“He always makes contact with the ball at the plate and he gets a great jump on the ball in the outfield.”

Lynn was a strong fielder up the middle at second base.

“He was solid at second; very, very quick,” Fotia said. “He has great hands and phenomenal range at second base.”

Lynn batted .430 with 34 hits, 23 RBIs, 29 runs scored and 16 stolen bases, all of which were tops on the team.

“That little guy has power,” Fotia said. “He can hit it to all fields. He’s very fast; he helped us cause all kinds of havoc on the bases. That was probably our strongest point.”

Fotia acknowledged the importance of losing three key seniors.

“It’s hard to replace pitching. Pitching is the name of the game,” Fotia said. “That’s going to be hard to replace. We have some young arms that just didn’t get experience.

“That was a great group of seniors. They could all play and they all worked hard, offensively and defensively.”



FANTASTIC FOURSOME

Rick Jones, Todd Fennick, R.J. Stewart and Brandon Ritchie partnered to propel Laurel into the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. The Spartans topped Freeport in the first round (7-1), but lost to South Fayette in the quarterfinals, 12-4, to finish 16-6.

Jones, a senior shortstop who batted leadoff, contended for the county’s batting title. He produced a .587 mark (44 for 75), just 10 points behind the county’s batting champion, Neshannock’s John Sansone.

The 44 hits were tops in the county. He added 30 runs scored, 18 RBIs, two homers and 13 steals as well.

“Rick had a great year; he really hit the ball well,” Laurel coach Eric Verdi. “When he gets on base, a lot of his hits turned into runs.

“He got us started and he’s been in that top spot since his sophomore year.”

Jones, who will continue his baseball career at Indiana University (Pa.), was equally as strong in the field.

“Rick’s been our rock in the middle since his freshman year,” Verdi said. “He makes all of our plays and he makes all of our calls.

“He has good hands and good range.”

Fennick, a senior third baseman, hit .483 with 29 hits, 25 RBIs, 19 runs scored and a pair of homers.

“He has just improved a great deal,” Verdi said. “He’s a great contact hitter and people see him and his size and think he’s all power. But he’s a patient hitter and he hits for average.

“He has good hands and a very strong arm.”

Fennick will play collegiately at Lake Erie College (Ohio).

Stewart, a sophomore left fielder/designated hitter, batted .417 with 25 hits, 17 RBIs and 17 runs scored.

“He’s been a surprise,” Verdi said. “He just had a wonderful year for us.

“He’s one of those guys that’s a good, pure hitter. He has great hands that can battle. Nothing phases him. I have a lot of confidence in him to drive in runs.”

Ritchie, a junior outfielder pitcher, hit .333 with 20 hits, 16 runs scored, 14 RBIs and two home runs.

“Brandon is a phenomenal outfielder with great range,” Verdi said. “He has a strong arm and he wants to throw everyone out. We’ll look to him to be our leadoff hitter next year.”

Ritchie baffled the opposition when he was on the mound. He compiled a 7-3 record with 65 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched. Ritchie appeared in 11 games with a 1.46 ERA.

“Brandon has gotten better every year; we’ve asked a ton from him,” Verdi said. “There’s a lot of pressure on Brandon and he delivered. He wants the ball and he gives you an opportunity to win every time he pitches.

“His best pitch is probably his changeup. When it’s on, with his fastball working, it’s impossible to hit.”



NEW CASTLE WHIRLWIND

Sean Coyne and Justin Fleo provided consistency for New Castle (8-11), which missed the postseason for the third straight year.

Coyne, a junior, played second base and pitched for the Red Hurricane. He was 2-4 on the hill in seven appearances. Coyne struck out 19 and walked nine in 351⁄3 innings of work, ranking second on the team behind Adam Vastano (372⁄3).

“We leaned on him. He pitched in most of the big games that we had,” New Castle coach Paul Malley Jr. said. “When he’s on, he’s on. His offspeed pitch was his best pitch.

“Sean’s win/loss record wasn’t the greatest but he went out and competed for us. He’s relentless with his work ethic.”

Malley said he could count on Coyne while he was stationed at second base as well.

“Defensively, he’s fundamentally sound,” Malley said. “Sean makes all the routine plays.

“He improved his lateral quickness. He’s a heady kid that knows the game. That’s what you want from a middle infielder.”

Coyne batted .362 with 13 RBIs, both were tops on the team. He added 21 hits and seven runs scored as well.

“Sean’s our No. 3 hitter. That’s usually where you put your top guy,” Malley said. “He was definitely our most consistent hitter. He put the ball in play and drove in runs for us.”

Fleo, a senior, suffered a knee injury just before football camp opened, forcing him to miss the football season. But he was back with a vengeance for the ’Canes’ baseball team.

“He missed a couple of games in the middle of the year, but he gave us everything he had,” Malley said. “I don’t think he was completely 100 percent, but he was pretty close; him at 70 percent is better than some people at 100 percent.”

Fleo, the team’s leadoff hitter, batted .328 with 22 hits and a team-high 12 stolen bases.

“He was just consistent,” Malley said. “He was our leadoff hitter pretty much every game over the last four years. He set the table for us.

“His speed is definitely a weapon. If you don’t field it cleanly, I’ve seen him beat it out.”



TOP BACKSTOP

Catcher Frank Shaffer excelled on a Mohawk team that finished just 2-18. Shaffer, a junior, batted .434 with 12 runs scored, 23 hits and a pair of triples — all but the triples were a team high. He knocked in seven runs and stole seven bases as well.

“Considering our offensive struggles, he was very consistent,” Warriors coach Kevin Sapp said of Shaffer. “He rarely struck out and he was never overmatched by any pitcher.

“He’s his own worst critic. He just works so hard to make himself a better ballplayer all the way around.”

Shaffer was equally as strong behind the plate. Sapp said Shaffer gunned down six potential base stealers.

“Defensively, he was a wall. He did an excellent job with our young pitching staff,” Sapp said. “I’m convinced he made all of our pitchers better.

“He works hard at throwing runners out. He’s done a heck of a lot on his own and with the team to make himself a better ballplayer.”

Sapp turned Shaffer loose to call the pitches as well.

“More often than not, we liked to let him call the game,” Sapp said. “Sometimes as a staff we’d step in. But ultimately it helps him or any catcher to call the game and he did a great job of it.”



SHENANGO TWO

The Wildcats contended for a WPIAL Class AA playoff berth behind the play of Brett Chieze and Brent McCormick.

Chieze, a senior left fielder, paced Shenango in average (.500), hits (34), runs scored (20) and stolen bases (14). He drove in seven runs as well.

“His batting was far and above what I expected,” Wildcats coach Mike Othites said. “We made a minor adjustment in his swing and he was just phenomenal; he hit everything.

“I thought he was the best player I had on the team. He did everything I asked of him.”

Chieze not only made an adjustment with his swing, but where he was stationed in the field. And he didn’t skip a beat.

“We moved him from second base and third base as a junior to left as a senior,” Othites said. “He does whatever you ask of him and he does it well. He has good instincts and a decent arm.”

McCormick played first base, third base and pitched for Shenango.

“One thing we did expect was for him to be somewhere in the infield,” Othites said. “He showed last year he could play pretty good defense.

“He has a good, strong arm, with good range at third and first.”

McCormick pitched in seven games, working 19 innings. He was 1-2 with a save and 23 strikeouts, while walking 11.

“Other than Tyler Booher, he was the most consistent,” Othites said. “He was used more as the guy to close and he did that pretty well.

“Brent threw hard and mixed his pitches well. I’m real pleased with his pitching. He’ll be a big part of the rotation the next couple of years.”

McCormick ranked second on the team in batting (.441) and hits (26). He also knocked in 14 runs.



PRIDE OF THE U

Union (13-8) reached the WPIAL Class A playoffs, notching a third-place finish in Section 3 with an 8-4 mark. The Scotties bowed out in the first round, though, to Vincentian Academy, 10-9. The Royals eliminated Union the last time it made the WPIAL playoffs in 2010, 8-2, in the first round.

The Scotties were led by the junior trio of Wayne Seamans, Carrington Bell and Drew Robinson.

Seamans, a center fielder, batted .400 with 17 RBIs and 20 runs scored for Union.

“He’s an aggressive hitter,” Scotties coach Gene DiGennaro said. “When he sees his pitch he goes at it; sometimes he’s a little overaggressive.

“We’ve talked to him about being a little bit more patient. He’s a real good two-strike hitter and a good opposite field hitter.”

DiGennaro said Seamans is an asset in center as well.

“Wayne is just a fundamentally sound player,” DiGennaro said. “He tries to do everything by the book. I think that’s why he’s successful at it.

“He just gets great jumps and reads on the ball. That allows him to track down many deep balls to the alleys.”

Bell played first base and he pitched as well. On the mound, Bell recorded a 6-3 mark and 56 strikeouts in 412⁄3 innings, all team highs.

“He was our workhorse on the mound,” DiGennaro said of Bell. “You knew you were going to get innings from him.”

Bell went nine innings in a 3-2 complete-game win over Rochester to seal a playoff berth for the Scotties.

“Carrington is very flexible and he loves to pitch,” DiGennaro said. “That allows him to go deep into games.

“He was outstanding against Rochester. He’s got good life on his fastball. When he’s on, hitters can’t catch up to his fastball. Carrington has a good slider. We’re working on a changeup, too.”

Bell batted .396 with 14 RBIs and 19 runs scored.

“He displays power at times,” DiGennaro said. “When he stays within himself, he’s a very good hitter and he has power to all fields.”

Robinson started the year at shortstop and shifted over to second base.

“Drew probably has some of the best hands of the infielders I’ve ever coached,” DiGennaro said. “He’s got real soft hands and he seems to make all the plays.

“He’s quick on his feet and he gets to a lot of balls.”

Robinson paced Union in batting with a .450 mark. He knocked in seven runs and scored 22. Robinson opened the season batting ninth, but finished as the team’s leadoff hitter.

“Drew is a good contact hitter,” DiGennaro said. “He has good pop at times and he finds a way to put the ball in play.

“Drew is a very good baseball player. He’s solid at the plate and solid in the field.”

With section and WPIAL champion Neshannock moving up to Class AA, DiGennaro believes the trio will help Union contend for a section crown next year.

“All three are good kids,” DiGennaro said. “All three are leaders in their own ways.

“They really work hard. We’re looking for big things as a team next year.”



A GREYHOUND GREAT

Wilmington’s Ryan Brumbaugh provided coach Garett Malinak consistency no matter where he was stationed. Brumbaugh played third base and he pitched, and made contributions at the plate as well for the Greyhounds (12-8).

“He’s one of those kids, no matter where you play him, he’ll excel,” Malinak said. “In the past, we put him all over the field. This year, we found a home for him at third.

“He made a lot of sparking plays in the field and he’s a guy we built our team around.”

On the mound, Brumbaugh was 2-0 with a pair of saves in six appearances. He tossed 102⁄3 innings, recording nine strikeouts and three walks with a 0.66 ERA.

“He throws quick and locates the ball well,” Malinak said. “He throws two different curveballs; that really keeps the batters off balance.

“He was phenomenal as a closer. He would just come in and shut everyone down.”

Brumbaugh, a junior, batted .412 with 30 RBIs, 19 runs scored and two home runs — all were team highs. He shared the team lead with Vince Pitzulo in hits with 28.

“He’s one of the better hitters around, in my mind,” Malinak said. “If he does make an out, you kind of do a doubletake; he’s that gifted.

“Ryan really puts in the time and effort. After our batting practice, if he doesn’t like how his went, he puts in a little extra time after practice. He’s that kid that other teams plan their pitching around.”

(In the print edition: If you didn’t pick up a copy of Saturday’s keepsake page featuring trading cards of all the all-stars, there’s still time. Stop into The News business office or call Marty at (724) 654-6651, extension 610.)