After down year, the Valley Vikings are looking to return to the playoffs

Friday, March 20, 2020 | 5:53 PM

The Valley baseball team didn’t have one senior on the roster last season, and coach Jim Basilone and his underclassmen took some lumps, winning only five games.

But the Vikings took their losses in stride and worked to improve every day. Now, they are hoping the down season will pay off in 2020.

“The juniors that are with me this year were with me as freshman when we went to the playoffs,” Basilone said. “So, they pretty much have been through the section title part of it and the playoffs. So, I think they are mentally stronger than they’ve been in the past — and physically. So we are really looking forward to competing this year. We think we can hold our own this year.”

One of the biggest improvements the Vikings are hoping to see this year is at the plate. They only scored 60 runs last year while allowing 131.

Basilone said his team got in the weight room, and he is expecting that to translate in the batter’s box.

“We didn’t really hit well last year,” Basilone said. “But I think them getting into the weight room over the winter and them seeing and understanding where our weakness was, and that’s what they needed to improve on. So, they are much stronger physically then they were, and I think that will help us in all aspects of the game.”

The Vikings also bring back a pitching staff full of juniors and sophomores who ate up 1021/3 innings last year.

Junior Cayden Quinn led the way and pitched 31 innings while producing a 4.97 ERA and striking out 26 batters. As a freshman, Ben Aftanas was also crucial on the mound, making six appearances, throwing 142/3 innings with a 3.34 ERA.

“Ben was very good for us last year and as a freshman, so we’ll be looking for a lot out of him this year,” Basilone said. “He’ll kind of be moved around a lot, too. He’ll be playing second, third and on the hill pitching.”

The Vikings also return key players like first-team all-section shortstop Shane Demharter, who hit .353 last season and played a crucial defensive role. In his junior season, Demharter is looking to take another step.

“I just gotta keep continuing to work hard and doing what I’m doing,” Demharter said. “I gotta continue to stay focused.”

The Vikings feel like they have to come together as a team. Last year, they lost five games by five runs or more.

After suffering losses against teams like Steel Valley, Freeport and Burrell, the Vikings are looking to prove they are a team that can compete.

“We were feeling very confident heading into the year,” outfielder Evan Henry said. “We’ve all gotten stronger, and it was another year together playing. We were all ready to go and see where the season takes us.”


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