Ace lefty Ryan Apaliski leads young pitching staff for Hampton baseball

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Saturday, March 18, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton baseball team is hoping one ace and a bunch of wild cards can turn into a winning hand.

The Talbots return senior Ryan Apaliski, a James Madison recruit, but are left with question marks on the mound behind their star southpaw.

“We don’t have any of the experience that we’ve had in previous years,” Hampton coach Kellen Wheeler said. “We’re still trying to find who’s going to be that (No. 2) pitcher.”

The top candidates to replace Youngstown State freshman Cam Marshalwitz in the rotation are a trio of junior right-handers — Matt Erka, Parker Brockway and Caleb Custer. Between them, they have thrown fewer than 10 varsity innings. But while they have little experience, there is promise in their ability.

“I think Matthew Erka is going to step up for us this year and be a really good pitcher,” said Apaliski, who went 4-3 with a 2.78 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 45 innings in his breakout first-team all-section 2022 season. “If we stay disciplined with our defense and our offense, I don’t think we are going to have an issue.”

Wheeler, entering his fifth season, is encouraged by a balanced lineup, an all-section caliber middle infield and some gifted newcomers as the Talbots move down to Class 4A.

The Talbots were scheduled to open the season March 22 at Gateway and begin Section 4-4A play April 3 at North Catholic.

“We are really excited for the group that we have moving forward,” Wheeler said. “This group wants the WPIAL title this year. … It’s going to be tough to do. But I think with this group, we can get there.”

Hampton went 10-10 last season, haunted by a controversial 4-3 loss to Penn-Trafford in the first round of WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. The Talbots were 1-6 in their final seven games, averaging a paltry 2.7 runs, after a 9-4 start.

This spring, Hampton will compete in Section 4-4A along with Highlands, Indiana, Kiski Area, Knoch and North Catholic. The Talbots tuned up for the season by attending a baseball camp from March 15-19 at Winston-Salem, N.C.

“I think we should do very well in our section,” Wheeler said.

Hampton’s 32-player roster includes 13 freshmen and eight sophomores. Most of them will begin the season at the junior varsity level, but some of them could make an impact this spring.

“We have a very big freshman class, and the talent level is absolutely insane,” Wheeler said. “Our talent this year is really, really good, and for the next four years we should be very, very good.”

Senior center fielder Zach Carr returns to the leadoff spot after batting .447 (17 for 38) last season with 11 runs scored, 10 RBIs and eight stolen bases.

Also near the top of the order are senior shortstop Eric Weeks, a Canisius recruit who hit .302 (16-53) last season with a team-high 15 runs scored, along with 10 RBIs and six stolen bases; and senior second baseman Anthony Bucci, who hit .302 with 13 runs scored, seven RBIs and was second on the team with 10 stolen bases.

“I’m excited for this year,” Carr said. “I expect good things. The whole team should be strong. This is going to be our best year.”

At the corner infield spots, junior Brady Long or sophomore Brady Smith are auditioning for the third base job, while senior Braxton Eastly, who hit .292 last season, and junior Parker Brockway are the potential first basemen.

Sophomore catcher Justin Dubee will take over as the full-time starter behind the plate.

Flanking Carr in the outfield will be two from the all-junior quartet of Erka, Norby Hock, Caleb Custer or Sean Sullivan.

“We have really high expectations,” Bucci said. “We think we can do a lot of really big things this year. … We definitely think we’ve got a lot of talent, and we are capable of it.”

Hampton didn’t hit for much power last season. The Talbots had only three home runs as a team and just 29 extra-base hits in 638 plate appearances. But they were successful on 59 of their 66 stolen-base attempts.

“I think we’re going to score a lot more this year than we have in the past,” Wheeler said. “From 1-9, we are looking like we are going to have a little bit more power. We are going to be solid.”

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