The Centre County baseball season will open Sunday. The Philipsburg Spike Island Pirates look to defend their title after beating the Lemont Ducks in the finals last year, ending the Ducks seven-year reign as league champs. The league has nine teams this year — Philipsburg, Lemont, the Clarence Mounties, the Milroy Stars, the Lewistown Predators, the Spring Mills Braves, the Howard Hawks, the Pleasant Gap Peppers and the Blanchard Bees. The Unionville Cardinals are no longer in the league.
League historian Harry Breon says several players could reach individual milestone this season. Rich Auman is three strikeouts from passing Harold Whitehill for third on the all-time strikeout list. Auman has 1,167. Brian Pelka is four wins away from 90 career triumphs. Travis Price needs two doubles for 100. Kevin Conklin needs three hits to reach 300 for his career and Mike Vogt needs three home runs to reach 100.
Here is a brief look at each team:
Coming off their title season, the Pirates look to build on last year’s success. The team returns starters Ryan Mostyn, Josh Potter, Matt Curtis, Matt McCamley, AJ Robinson, Jon Shaffer, Tyler Good, JD Mason, Parker Watson, Nick Daye, Andy Lytle and Aaron Lidgett. New faces will include Adam Jury, Brandon Myers, Chad Speigle and Jake Belinda among others. The Pirates have one goal in mind: Defend their title.
The Ducks are turning to both veterans and newcomers to make another run at the title. Kyle Wright, Matt Smith, Ben Sallade, Aaron Tressler, Johnny Martinez and the Kempton brothers — Erik and Kieran — lead the way for the Ducks. Newcomers Trey Nicosia, Clint Hicks and Renny Parthemore are looking to make an impact. Loren Crispell, Steve Weaver and Dan Sowash will manage the team and all three are excited at the prospects for upcoming season.
Milroy will once again be one of the youngest teams in the league. A key loss for the team is outfielder Casey Zimmerman due to shoulder surgery. Key additions will be left-handed pitcher Tourn Morder and right-hander Chris Baker. Veterans Kalen Gearhart, Nic Beamenderfer, Nick Pupo and Colton Spade will return to lead the offense. Also returning is starter Brian Billett, who led the team in wins, and catcher Kyle Morrow.
The Lewistown Predators are hoping to improve on a successful season in which they made a run to the second round of the playoffs. This year, added depth to the pitching rotation, and a lineup balanced with a mix of speed and power, should make for one of the best teams the Predators have put together since joining the league.
Clarence will look to break the Philipsburg Curse, having lost to the Pirates in the semifinals on the last swing of the bat three consecutive seasons. The Mounties, who hit .403, with 33 home runs, will be again lead by Brian Kochik, who hit .546, John Schall and Justin Koleno who both hit .530. Speedster Ryan MacNamara provides a rare blend of power and average from the leadoff spot, hitting .469 with five homers and 28 walks.
Ex-Bald Eagle Area and current California, Pa., standout Justin Taylor also will provide power when needed. Brad Young, Adam Fisher, Dillon Schall, Scott Hugeney and George Schall all started games last season and are expected to be vital pieces. Some new additions to the Mounties include ex-Unionville Cardinals Derek Jabco and Mike Lutz. Brad Kling comes back to the Mounties after a four-year hiatus.
Bellefonte natives AJ Jabco and Adam Day expect to help the ballclub as well. Ryan Morgan and Brian Beals will also provide outfield depth. For the Mounties pitching staff, MacNamara will lead the rotation, with Kochik, Justin Koleno and Schall all expected to make starts. Veteran lefty Dave Urbanik will also throw for the Mounties. Playing both for Clarence Legion and the Mounties are Cullen Hamilton, Jon Romine, Schall, Jordan Kobolarcik, Jeff Koleno and Ben Verbitsky. The Mounties are coached by Rob Gavlock and Jim Taylor.
Spring Mills Braves
The Braves look for strong pitching from Rich Auman, Tyler Myers, Brady Waltz, Jordan Brennan and Tyler James to lead the team to a playoff run. With strong pitching and offensive production from Cody Young, Jordan Schainholz, Kevin Conklin, Micah Schrenkel, Mike Vogt, Elliot Reily, Cody Luse, George Conklin and Aaron Neideigh, the Braves look forward to having a good season.
The season brings high hopes for the Hawks, who are looking to improve upon a strong 2012. Howard, which fell in the first round of the playoffs last season, is led by veterans Bones Fisher, Scott Zuback, Travis Price and Tyler Womer. The addition of Dan Cole should provide a boost to an already potent lineup. The Hawks are buoyed by the addition of young players like Dylan and Kyle Womer. Coach Doug Womer is returning for his second year and brings a strong family dynamic to the team and community.
The Blanchard Bees are looking forward to another great season, with the help of a roster full of great talent around the diamond. The Bees finished 9-13 last season.
Pleasant Gap Peppers
The Peppers look to improve on last year’s record with the addition of youth and also some tenured players. The Peppers finished 4-18 last season.