State College and Bald Eagle Area provided the highlights of high school baseball season in Centre County a year ago.
Both made runs to the District 6 championship game and earned berths in the PIAA tournament. Both are hoping to put themselves in position for another postseason run this year.
Penns Valley is looking to turn its recent postseason heartbreak into motivation, while Bellefonte and Philipsburg-Osceola are coming off losing campaigns.
And St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy is fielding a team for the first time in school history.
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State College is looking to win its third straight District 6 Class AAAA crown this season.
“When you’re the defending champ, the target’s kind of on your back a little bit,” coach Bill Tussey said. “But that makes for a good challenge for ‘em. Our expectations are or our goals are as a team to defend our championship and hopefully make a good run here at the end of the year in the PIAAs.”
The Little Lions have a talented group despite losing key contributors in Jonathan Bergman, Ken Craig, Keith LeBarron, Alec Lose, Nick Raquet, Calvin Sichler and Derek Van Horn.
Nine players are committed to play in college, and 12 are returning letterwinners. The Little Lions also return starters in shortstop Chris Adams, second baseman Tyler Hall, outfielder Brandon Raquet and outfielder Caleb Walls.
Walls, the team’s leadoff hitter who is headed to George Mason, was a first-team Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth Division selection last season.
Bailey Ishler and Kyle Peterson will lead the rotation after emerging as the Little Lions’ top two pitchers a year ago.
“I think we have some depth pitching,” Tussey said. “There’s certainly some ability there. Time will tell whether we execute or not, but the ability’s there.”
Bald Eagle Area
The Eagles must replace a handful of key contributors from a team that went to the District 6 Class AA championship game and lost to eventual state champion Loyalsock in the first round of the PIAA tournament.
The Eagles lost four of their top five hitters in Ryan Dyke, Bryce Greene, Bryan Greene and Nate Cleaver and their top pitcher in Jeff Bennett. Dyke, who led the team in hitting and RBIs, will be an assistant coach.
“Although we lost several really good players to graduation,” coach Jim Gardner said, “the returning lettermen along with a very talented junior class lead us to believe we should be very competitive this season. The junior and senior classes seem to mesh together very well when we look at getting the right people in the right positions.”
Brandon Gettig is the team’s leading returning hitter and will play shortstop after playing second base last season. Kody Hamer is also in the mix at shortstop. Colton Comly led the team in wins last year and will lead a pitching staff that will include Gettig, Hamer, Jason Jones, Ryan Guenot, A.J. Onder and Brandon Barnyak. Jones and Guenot are returning outfielders.
The Eagles have at least two players working for time at each position, except at third base, where Alex Struble will take over.
“This team is similar to any other year,” Gardner said. “We need to battle through a tough schedule consisting of mostly larger schools, all the while raising our playing level in an attempt to secure a good seed for the D6 playoffs.”
Penns Valley saw its season end with walk-off losses in the first round of the District 6 Class AA playoffs the last two seasons.
The Rams lost 6-5 to Mount Union in 2013 and fell 12-11 to Forest Hills in 2014.
“That experience will hopefully motivate them to take the next step in district play this year,” coach Chuck Romig said.
Penns Valley lost eight players and returns seven letterwinners — all seniors. Wyatt Sharp returns after being one of the team’s top offensive threats a year ago.
The Rams must replace two of their top pitchers in Cameron Tobias and Adam DeGarmo. LJ Johnson is the most experienced returner on the mound.
“We have a solid starting rotation and potentially one of the better defensive teams we have had at PV in a while,” Romig said. “We are senior heavy with 10 seniors, so lack of experience is not a factor this year and that experience could help us win the close, low-scoring games that we have let slip away the last few seasons.”
The Red Raiders are looking to bounce back after going 6-12 and missing the playoffs last year.
Bellefonte has returning pitchers Devin Walk, Mark Armstrong, Darren Heeman, Dominic Masullo, Taylor Butts and Logan Mathieu. Jonny Glunt, Derek Fries, Adam Kuhn and Taylor Butts are among the team’s leading returning hitters.
“We have many skilled players that will get opportunities to contribute during the season,” coach Jeremy Rellinger said. “We see a competitive spirit and enthusiasm amongst the players that should drive them to be at their best when their number is called. We can really benefit from players owning the team-first mentality, and we feel we have the players to follow through with that.”
Philipsburg-Osceola is coming off a 5-14 season.
The Mounties have five returning letterwinners, including sophomore shortstop Logan Williamson, who led the team with a .420 batting average last season. Seniors Tanner Lamb, Tanner Wilson, Mitch Winters and junior Derek Shaw round out the returners.
Lamb started a team-high seven games on the mound last season.
“In the couple of weeks that we've practiced, our veteran players have demonstrated excellent leadership,” coach Doug Sankey said. “Our newcomers are very talented and hard working. We are excited about the season.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
The Wolves have 13 players on their first-ever roster.
St. Joseph’s coach Troy Allen said his players will play a variety of positions depending on the pitcher due to the thin roster. Allen said Phil Fenstermacker and Michael Forstmeier are the Wolves’ top two players and pitchers.
St. Joseph’s is playing its home games at the Shaner Sports Complex.
“We have a young team so playing varsity baseball is going to be a test for many of them,” Allen said. “The main thing I want to see is growth and (I’m) not so concerned about record at this point. You got to start somewhere and I like the foundation we have.”