It’s been more than a decade since Dan Fravel stood in the coach’s box along the third base line as the head of a varsity program.
He’ll make his return this spring at Bellefonte after being hired in late February. Fravel’s last stint as a head coach spanned from 1997-2004 at Rising Sun High School in Maryland. Back at the helm, Fravel will be posing challenges to the Red Raiders, setting the lineup and emphasizing the fundamentals.
Right now, he’s working to build trust with his players while teaching them the game.
“The part that I like the most is the art of trying to be able to connect with every kid at their level and be able to push their buttons for them to individually get better,” Fravel said, “and then to try to win the trust of the team.”
Fravel is one of four first-year head coaches of Centre County teams this season. Troy Allen takes over at State College, Jon Bowersox is leading Penns Valley and Greg Herman is the head coach at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy.
Fravel and Allen are new faces at their programs.
Fravel spent much of the last decade as an assistant coach, including nine years at State College. Allen was the head coach at St. Joseph’s during the program’s first-ever season last year before taking the opportunity to lead the Little Lions.
Allen already knows some of his players well.
He’s trained Chris Adams, Bailey Ishler, Brandon Raquet, Greg Copenhaver and Tucker Triebold for the last three or four years. But Allen takes a different approach as a trainer than he does as a coach.
“I goof around a lot when I’m in the training center,” said Allen, who is the co-owner of Own The Plate Baseball Academy. “When I’m on the field, I’m a little more intense.”
It’s been an adjustment, Allen said, but it’s gone well.
The State College coach is also getting to know the rest of his players and said they’ll still be learning about each other early in the season.
Bowersox and Herman have a better feel for their rosters.
Both transitioned from assistant coach to the head job at their respective schools.
Bowersox was a four-year starter on the baseball team at Penns Valley from 1979-82. The former Rams standout, who was an assistant the last two seasons, is looking forward to the opportunity at his alma mater.
Bowersox has made some changes, including shortening practices by 30 minutes after seeing players lose interest in the past.
“I said I’m going to shorten your practice day,” Bowersox said, “but you go all out.”
Herman said St. Joseph’s has all the logistics worked out going into this season after figuring it out “on the fly” a year ago.
He coached travel teams before working as an assistant for the Wolves, and he’s confident in the staff he assembled following Allen’s move.
“Troy had tons and tons of game experience, and that’s a huge thing we’re going to be missing,” Herman said. “But I went and found other coaches that could bring that to the table. We’re solid. Our coaching staff’s incredible this year.”
Bald Eagle Area
Jim Gardner is one of the area’s veteran coaches, entering his 16th season leading the Eagles.
Gardner hasn’t considered long-term goals for his team.
He just wants his team to put together a successful regular season to earn a good seed for the postseason. Last season, as the No. 14 seed, BEA lost to Bellwood-Antis and ace pitcher Chad Luensmann in the first round of the District 6 Class AA playoffs.
Luensmann struck out 14 and fired a one-hitter that day.
“He was lights out that day,” Gardner said. “So if you take care of business in the regular season, get yourself a good seed, chances are you don’t run into something like that in the first round of playoffs.”
To do that, the Eagles are looking to come out on top in close games — last season, they lost five one-run games and finished with a 7-13 record.
The Eagles will be led by three-year starter Ryan Guenot, center fielder Trey Butterworth and first baseman Noah Chambers. Guenot, who is moving from second base to shortstop, is one of the team’s seven pitchers.
The Red Raiders return their top pitchers and their power hitter from last season’s District 6 Class AAA championship team.
Bellefonte ace Dom Masullo led the team in innings pitched while piling up 59 strikeouts and finishing with a 2.18 ERA in 2015. Fravel said Masullo, Kyler Mellott and Jeremy Warefield will lead the rotation.
“The pitching staff has a lot of experience,” Fravel said. “They were the workhorses of last year’s success.”
Logan Mathieu is another experienced arm as he was second on the team in innings pitched a year ago. He also provided a big bat in the middle of the lineup, hitting .400 with two home runs and a team-high 22 RBIs.
Multiple players are battling to earn starting spots in the infield and outfield, while the catcher and third base positions are wide open.
The Rams lost nearly their entire pitching staff to graduation.
Chase Collison is the lone Penns Valley player in the mix to pitch with experience on the mound, but Bowersox would like to keep him at first base for his glove.
“The other five have never pitched varsity before,” Bowersox said. “I guess I got to see how they handle it, but I think they’ll be OK.”
The Rams went 6-12 in 2015.
Collison, Jon Montresor, Corby Woodring, Allen Cain and Joe Whitmer are the returning lettermen on the team’s 14-player roster.
The Mounties finished last season with a 9-12 record and reached the District 6 Class AA quarterfinals after upsetting No. 2 seed Bishop McCort in the first round.
With their top two players and four starting pitchers back, they’re excited about this spring and hoping to end their streak of three straight losing seasons.
“We’ve had two or three years here where we’ve been down,” said P-O coach Doug Sankey, who is going into his 19th season, “so looking to get back to where we were the last 15 years.”
Derek Shaw and Logan Williamson will lead the way.
Shaw is a four-year starter at catcher, and Williamson is a three-year starter at shortstop. They were also the team’s leading hitters in 2015 as Shaw hit .423 and Williamson hit .475 with nine extra base hits.
Isaac Knepp, Josh Earnest, Gage Coudriet and Cam Domblisky are the team’s returning starting pitchers.
Allen has high expectations for his team.
But he’s also staying realistic — the Little Lions must replace seven starters from last season’s team, which won 19 games, captured its third straight District 6 Class AAAA title and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals.
“Between having newer guys and all of us getting adjusted to each other, I absolutely would like to contend for the District 6 title,” Allen said. “But I also am realistic in that there’s probably going to be an adjustment period.”
Still, State College has talent back.
Shortstop Chris Adams, outfielder Brandon Raquet, pitchers Bailey Ishler and Tristan Ballenger and first baseman and pitcher Tucker Triebold all played key roles last season. Allen said he plans to use Raquet sparingly early in the season as he works back from an injury.
Ishler, a right-hander, heads into his senior year after serving as one of the team’s top pitchers each of the last two years. Ballenger, a lefty, turned in an impressive junior campaign, too.
Allen is concerned with the depth behind Ishler, Ballenger and Triebold this year.
“Those three can’t throw every game,” Allen said. “If I had to pick a weakness, it probably is our pitching staff, where we’re really young and inexperienced.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
The Wolves spent a week in Cocoa, Fla., during the preseason.
They spent four hours doing position work from the morning to the early afternoon, worked on team concepts for three hours in the evening and spent an 90 minutes at night at the batting cages. They also had two scrimmages.
“It really knocked the rust off of them,” Herman said.
St. Joseph’s is coming off an 8-9 season that ended in the District 6 Class A playoffs.
In the first year of the program, the Wolves didn’t have much depth. At one point, they had 10 players available due to injuries. This season, St. Joseph’s has 21 players.
“We’re going to have talent sitting on the bench and we didn’t have that luxury last year,” Herman said.
Michael Forstmeier, the team’s top returning pitcher and player, turned his ankle in Florida. Herman said Forstmeier’s status is uncertain going into the year.
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