Certain moments remain vivid in Garrett Reiter’s memory about nine months after Bellefonte’s run to the state championship.
He can still remember his view from the on-deck circle when Storm Smith hit a game-winning, walk-off double in the state semifinals — he thought he was about to hit with the game tied before realizing the game-winning run was going to score. He still cycles through sliding and knocking down a ground ball to second base to record the final out of the state title game.
He’ll never forget the Red Raiders’ magical postseason in 2016 or how they rode steady defensive play to the school’s first state championship in baseball.
“It won us the championship last year,” Reiter said, referring to the defense. “You can have guys hitting .400, hitting bombs over the fence, but if you don’t have a defense and pitchers throwing strikes and the other team’s putting up 10 runs just like you are, it’s hard to win games.”
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The Red Raiders return their entire starting infield from a year ago, and they’ll be relying on their defense to put together another strong season after losing two of their top pitchers. Last season’s ace Dom Masullo and Kyler Mellott combined to pitch 107 1/3 of the team’s 178 innings in 2016. Masullo recorded five wins and one save during the team’s seven-game postseason run.
With Masullo and Mellott now pitching in college at Morehead State and Clarion, respectively, Bellefonte will turn to some new arms to fill out the rotation surrounding returning starter Adam Armstrong.
Reiter, senior Tyler Kreger and sophomore Ashton Wetzler — who combined to throw 11 2/3 innings last season — will round out the top of the pitching staff this season.
They’ll look to execute a simple-but-proven game plan on the mound.
“We know that if we can throw strikes and let our defense play behind us, we can win a lot of games,” Kreger said.
Kreger is the returning starter at third base and Reiter is back at second base, while shortstop Dylan Deitrich and first baseman Logan Mathieu round out the infield. With Masullo, Mellott and Armstrong getting the job done on the mound a year ago, Kreger and Reiter helped form the Red Raiders’ reliable defense, which averaged 1.05 errors in its final 22 games last season.
Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel said keeping Kreger and Reiter in the infield will be a priority.
“They make up our strongest defensive set, so we’re going to try to stay with them on defense as much as we can,” Fravel said.
Still, the Red Raiders will need them on the mound.
Kreger and Reiter both pitched for the Huntingdon Redhawks travel team this past summer, but they rarely stepped on the mound last spring.
Reiter threw one inning for the Red Raiders in 2016, and Kreger threw 2 2/3 innings.
“It’s different from my view at third base,” Kreger said of being back on the mound.
The senior then repeated a version of the program’s motto while outlining his focus as a pitcher — throw strikes and let the defense play. Fravel stressed that philosophy when he took over last season and called it the “difference-maker” in the season when his pitchers realized they could go deep into games by trusting the defense.
Reiter first learned that lesson when he started pitching in Little League.
At 10 years old, he wanted to throw hard and pile up strikeouts like the major league pitchers he watched. But his coach taught him to relax and trust his defense. He simply needed to throw strikes.
That’s his approach going into his senior year.
“I’m not an overpowering guy — maybe hit 80 (mph) — but I’m not going to strike a lot of people out,” Reiter said.
Armstrong and Wetzler will specialize as pitchers like Bellefonte’s top-3 arms did last season.
Armstrong, a junior, finished with a 5-1 record and a 0.74 ERA in 38 innings in 2016, while Wetzler earned one win and threw eight innings as a freshman.
Fravel said Wetzler displays good control as he can throw his fastball, curveball or changeup in any count. He’ll be part of a new rotation as Bellefonte looks to make new memories after an unforgettable run to the state championship last season.
“I really want to repeat,” Reiter said. “That would be crazy.”