High School Sports

Bellefonte rides pitching staff into PIAA Class AAA baseball semifinals

Bellefonte’s Dominic Masullo is just one part of a three-headed monster the Red Raiders have in their pitching staff.
Bellefonte’s Dominic Masullo is just one part of a three-headed monster the Red Raiders have in their pitching staff. Centre Daily Times, file

Dom Masullo started meditating last summer.

If the Bellefonte pitcher felt a little anxious, he would go outside, sometimes to a baseball field, and spend 30-45 minutes sitting in a relaxed state.

He cleared his mind. He listened to the sounds around him and let his body relax. He visualized situations in life and baseball.

He thought about his senior season and the Red Raiders’ potential.

“Where we are now is what I was thinking of the whole time,” Masullo said.

Bellefonte (14-11) is in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals, set to take on District 3 champion Hamburg (18-8) at 2 p.m. Monday at Greene Township Park in Scotland.

The winner advances to the state championship game Thursday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Pitching and defense have defined Bellefonte’s postseason run.

Masullo, Kyler Mellott and Adam Armstrong have combined to limit opposing teams to 1.6 runs per game in five district and state playoff games.

All three have been ready to throw throughout the Red Raiders’ run.

“As we get deep in the playoffs here, every game we warm up multiple pitchers because the margin for error is zero at this point,” Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel said. “So if it’s not your day, we got to have a short hook and get the next guy in there.”

Fravel has all three of his top arms able to throw Monday.

The ace

When Masullo meditates, he visualizes who he wants to be as a pitcher, teammate and leader.

If something goes wrong, how is he going to handle it? If a teammate makes a mistake, how is he going to help?

The right-hander meditated a little bit to get back on track after his “rocky start” to the season.

“I’ve always been a pretty anxious guy,” Masullo said. “I like to have fun, but I was out of my element for sure. I was trying to do too much too.”

Right now, he’s relaxed and having fun.

Masullo also prepared for this season by reshaping his body.

Masullo lost 45 pounds from October to March after changing his diet and working out two-to-three times a day. He traded Taco Bell — his go-to spot for fast food — for a daily meal of chicken, rice, eggs and spinach.

Masullo, now 220 pounds, has noticed a difference in his performance.

“It’s improved my balance, my health — I was going down a bad road with, like, the way I was eating — and I just feel a lot better about myself,” Masullo said. “I’m more confident now on the mound for sure.”

The Morehead State commit has been the staff’s workhorse, pitching in four of the five playoff games. He threw a complete game in Bellefonte’s 7-5 win over Hollidaysburg in the District 6 championship game and picked up another win in a 2-1 victory over Chartiers Valley in the first round of the state playoffs.

Masullo is 6-3 with one save and a 2.32 ERA in 12 appearances this season. He has struck out 72 and walked 43.

“When he locks in some days, he can shut any team down,” Fravel said.

The senior lefty

Mellott heard the taunts in Bellefonte’s first-round district playoff game.

When he entered in relief in the fourth inning, Greater Johnstown players heckled him with calls of “D2” and “Clarion.”

Mellott struck out the side to silence them.

“The fifth inning, they didn’t say anything,” Mellott said.

He finished the Red Raiders’ 12-2 win with three more strikeouts in the fifth.

The Clarion commit has tripled his workload from a year ago, throwing 36 innings with an ERA of 2.72.

While Masullo worked to lose weight during the offseason, Mellott worked to add 15 pounds to earn more time.

“I’m a skinny, little kid so I needed to get more weight on me, get more velocity,” Mellott said.

The left-hander made that his goal after a frustrating junior season as he only pitched 12 innings in four games.

“I wasn’t going to be the guy to try to get myself in the lineup,” Mellott said. “I’m not that kind of kid. I’m just going to wait until my number’s called.”

When his teammates get the ball, Mellott provides support from the dugout.

The lefty didn’t have his breaking ball working against Chartiers Valley, so he understood why Masullo replaced him in the third inning.

After Masullo got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, Mellott was bouncing out of the dugout to greet his teammate.

Similar scenes played out between innings of the Red Raiders’ state quarterfinal game against Cathedral Prep.

The sophomore lefty

Mellott was pacing in the dugout from start to finish of the game against Cathedral Prep.

“I was pumped up,” Mellott said. “I kind of felt like I was annoying the other guys in the dugout because they were sitting down, being calm and I didn’t sit down once. I was yelling every time something good happened, which was often.”

Armstrong was the catalyst in a 1-0 win, pitching a one-hitter to clinch the Red Raiders’ spot in the state semifinals.

“Every time I think of it, it makes me smile a little bit,” Armstrong said.

The sophomore left-hander threw 80 pitches in the complete-game effort.

Armstrong has been lights-out since joining the varsity team.

He’s allowed four earned runs in 38 innings, good for a 0.74 ERA.

And he’s done it with two pitches — a fastball and a 12-6 curveball.

“Not many kids can do it, and most big leaguers don’t do it,” Fravel said of Armstrong’s curveball. “It goes straight up, straight down, and it’s got real tight spin to it.

“And he can control it.”

The approach

Throw strikes. Change speeds. Let the defense play — that’s how Fravel wants his pitchers to approach the game.

They’ve executed that plan in the postseason with a solid defense behind them. And the pitchers have been quick to credit their teammates for that support.

“I would love to go out there as well with the defense the way it is,” Fravel said.

The Red Raiders trio of pitchers has gotten the job done so far.

They’ve combined to allow one run in two PIAA playoff games, producing a pair of one-run wins to keep their team alive.

One more win will send them to the state championship game.

Ryne Gery: 814-231-4679, @rgery