Five of the six county baseball teams finished with winning records in 2016, but they each enjoyed varying degrees of success.
Bellefonte provided the highlight by capturing the state championship. Philipsburg-Osceola and St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy both won two district playoff games before being eliminated, while Bald Eagle Area and State College were both eliminated in their district openers. Penns Valley was the lone team to finish below .500 as the Rams struggled through a 4-14 campaign.
Here’s a look at each team heading into 2017.
Bald Eagle Area
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BEA coach Jim Gardner thinks his program has the ability to make a run every year.
But the Eagles saw their past two seasons come to an end in the first round of the District 6 playoffs. Throughout both seasons, BEA struggled to come through offensively in crucial situations.
“It seemed like last year and really the last couple years just about anybody could hit until there was somebody on second,” Gardner said.
Coming off an 11-9 season, Gardner hopes this year’s team breaks that trend. Gardner said the Eagles will be solid defensively and look to build off their pitching, led by left-hander Brian Egan.
“Brian has all the ability in the world,” Gardner said. “He just needs to be more consistent. That’s no mystery to him.”
But BEA’s problem the last two years has been hitting with runners in scoring position.
“I’m going to tell them over and over again that I believe in them, and I believe they can get it done,” Gardner said. “But, ultimately, it comes down to each individual having confidence in themselves.”
With plenty of talent back from the Red Raiders’ state championship team — including their best hitter, a dominant pitcher and their entire starting infield — Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel is excited about his team’s potential.
But going into this season, Fravel said this group hasn’t yet taken the time to look back on last year or look ahead at the possibilities for this year.
“It’s just kind of been a workmanship way about getting back into routines and re-establishing chemistry,” Fravel said.
Bellefonte found the right mix at the right time last season.
Though the Red Raiders lost ace Dom Masullo and Kyler Mellott, left-hander Adam Armstrong (5-1, 0.74 ERA) will provide a strong presence on the mound. Logan Mathieu will be Bellefonte’s top threat offensively after hitting .379 with 14 doubles and 19 RBIs last season.
But the Red Raiders must overcome losing Tanner Helms, who will miss his senior season after having offseason shoulder surgery to repair a recurring football injury. Helms, an outfielder, hit .347 with 13 RBIs last season.
“He’s a big part of this team,” Fravel said. “It really burns him to not be able to contribute, but I want him to be part of everything.”
The Rams’ season hinges on their defense.
Penns Valley committed 79 errors in 18 games last season — an average of 4.4 per game — and the Rams couldn’t overcome the miscues as they finished with a 4-14 record. Penns Valley’s defense will determine the difference between enjoying a turnaround season or enduring another year of disappointment.
“Our defense just killed us last year,” coach Jon Bowersox said.
The defensive issues prevented Penns Valley from picking up its first win this season. The Rams had six errors and blew a two-run lead in the seventh inning as the teams were tied 10-10 in a game suspended due to darkness. They had one error in their 5-0 loss to Juniata in the season opener.
Seniors Luke Snyder, Andrew Tobias, Hunter Homan, Lucas Sharer and Keith Butts all return with experience on the mound.
The coach felt they did their job in 2016, but they didn’t receive enough support from the defense.
“They weren’t the reason we didn’t win games last year,” Bowersox said. “We just committed more errors than anybody in the Mountain League. It didn’t matter how well they pitched; we just couldn’t field the ball last year.”
Mounties coach Doug Sankey started to look ahead to this season when last year ended.
Philipsburg-Osceola fell 4-0 to Bishop McCort in the District 6 Class 2A semifinals. The Mounties finished the season with a 15-8 record, while Bishop McCort won the district title and reached the state championship game.
This season, the Mounties want to win the district championship — and they have the experience to do it.
“That game against Bishop McCort was a heartbreaker,” Sankey said. “Our kids were really disappointed. With all the young kids we had, I kind of just tried to tell ’em to remember that moment and how they felt and hopefully feed off that for this year.”
Starting shortstop Logan Williamson will lead Philipsburg-Osceola this season. Williamson, a four-year starter, hit .323 and finished with a team-high 22 RBIs in 2016. Juniors Josh Earnest and Gage Coudriet will form a strong pitching staff along with senior Cam Domblisky, who is healthy after being limited by a back injury a year ago.
“This is one of the deepest teams I’ve had,” Sankey said. “We’re a small school. We’re lucky to run nine or 10 good players out there, but I really feel like we’re deep this year, so hopefully that makes everybody compete a little bit harder.”
Little Lions coach Troy Allen watched pitching and defense put his team in position to win games last season, only to see the offense come up short time and time again.
“The games that we won were blowouts,” Allen said. “The games that we lost were like the 3-0, 3-1s, 2-0s. Our pitching staff kept us in it.”
The lack of offensive production led to an 11-9 season and the end of State College’s dominance in District 6. After winning three straight district titles, the Little Lions suffered a 6-0 loss against Mifflin County in the semifinals in 2016.
State College managed two hits in a loss that highlighted its weakness.
Offense remains a concern, while pitching and defense remain strengths going into this season. Penn State signee Mason Mellott and Gavin Schaefer-Hood will lead a deep pitching rotation for the Little Lions.
“I feel comfortable with our pitching staff and our defense,” Allen said. “It’s all about what the offense does.”
A brilliant pitching effort secured St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s biggest win last season.
The No. 9-seed Wolves upset top-seeded Blairsville 1-0 in the District 6 Class A playoffs. Bryce Herman pitched six innings and Ben Macafee closed out the victory to send St. Joseph’s to the semifinals, where the Wolves saw their season come to an end with a loss to Portage.
“We’re hoping to go a little further this year,” St. Joseph’s coach Greg Herman said.
St. Joseph’s will be well-equipped to make another postseason run in the third year of the baseball program, thanks to a deep pitching staff. Bryce Herman, Greg’s son, will lead the way along with freshman Cam Burris and Macafee, who is currently dealing with an ankle injury.
The Wolves are hoping their pitching staff makes a difference in the postseason.
“That’s one of the things you look at, we’re pretty heavy with good pitching for a Single-A school,” Herman said. “That’s going to bode well for us.”
Bald Eagle Area
Head coach: Jim Gardner
Assistant coaches: Luke Gardner, Zach Rote, John Jones, Ryan MacNamara, Justin Taylor, Bryce Greene, Gary Heverly, Mike Thompson, Tyler Womer, Dylan Womer, Gage Gardner, Andy Bucha
Last year: 11-9
Key losses: Ryan Guenot, Trey Butterworth, Noah Chambers, AJ Onder, Brandon Barnyak, Andy Swabick, Caleb Bell
Returning letterwinners: Kyle Gill, Hunter Eminhizer, Ty Walker, Tanner Kresovich, Brian Egan, Jake Gates, Luke Jozefick, Grant King
Key newcomers: Jordan Jones, Garret Barnhart, Trent Donley, Kyle Gates, Gabe Basalla, Cale Burkett, Curtis Witherite
Head coach: Dan Fravel
Assistant coaches: Steve Launse, Pat Masullo, Kyle Shubert
Last year: 16-11
Key losses: Dom Masullo, Kyler Mellott, Storm Smith, Nick Jabco
Returning letterwinners: Logan Mathieu, Garrett Reiter, Dylan Deitrich, Greg Watson, Colton Burd, Tyler Kreger, Cade Fortney, Adam Armstrong, Cayden Lucas, Ethan Corman
Key newcomers: Ashton Wetzler, CJ Funk
Head coach: Jon Bowersox
Assistant coaches: Shawn Meyer, Eric Weaver
Last year: 4-14
Key losses: Jon Montresor, Corby Woodring, Logan Johnson, Allen Cain, Chase Collison, Bradley Musser, Joe Whitmer, Connor Dix
Returning letterwinners: Luke Snyder, Andrew Tobias, Hunter Homan, Lucas Sharer, Keith Butts, Nate Gillespie
Key newcomers: Jakob Daniels, Thomas Kauffman, Jared Kines, Matthew Tobias, Calvin Russell, Logan Snyder
Head coach: Doug Sankey
Assistant coaches: Tyler Good, Bo Sankey, Dale Shaw, Bill Domblisky, Matt Curtis, Aaron Mason
Last year: 15-8
Key losses: Derek Shaw, Isaac Knepp, Caleb Belinda
Returning letterwinners: Logan Williamson, Cam Domblisky, Josh Earnest, Gage Coudriet, Brandon Kephart, Hunter Ammerman, Micah Martin, Trey Shaw, Landon McDonald
Key newcomers: Bubba Slogosky, Ryan Kephart, Riley Phillips, Keegan Soltis
Head coach: Troy Allen
Assistant coaches: Dave Jameson, Brandon Auman, Collin Muthler
Last year: 11-9
Key losses: Brandon Raquet, Greg Copenhaver, Dalton Barger, Tucker Triebold, Zach Ripka, Evan Moerschbacher, Chris Adams, Bailey Ishler
Returning letterwinners: Mason Mellott, Gavin Schaefer-Hood, Kenny Magnes, Liam Clarke, David Shoemaker, Tyson Cooper, Christian Friberg, Evan Smith, Grant Donghia
Key newcomers: Kevin Karstetter, Matt Tomczuk, Jack Hurley, Ryan Gess, Tyler Gulley
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Head coach: Greg Herman
Assistant coaches: Jim Dinsmore, Jim Steyers, Brian Macafee, Bob Kelly
Last year: 11-9
Key losses: Michael Forstmeier, Justin Beck, Michael Kresovich
Returning letterwinners: Cole Bernier, Dylan Broderick, Bryce Herman, Ben Macafee, Jack Mangene, Nathaniel Mellott, Jose Montes, Carl Oelhaf, Ryan Peachey, Sean Scanlon, Nick Shearer, Matt Steyers, Zane Thornburg
Key newcomers: Cam Burris