Baldwin baseball rebuilding project making progress

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Sunday, April 11, 2021 | 11:01 AM


As Dorothy says repeatedly in the iconic movie “The Wizard of Oz,” there’s no place like home.

Veteran coach Steve Bucci would agree, as he has returned to his roots to take over the Baldwin baseball team.

Bucci, with WPIAL and PIAA titles on his resume, was hired at his alma mater in the 2019 offseason.

He logged his first win as Baldwin’s coach March 30 at Wallace Field when the Highlanders defeated South Hills rival Thomas Jefferson, 11-1, in their home opener.

“Qualifying for the playoffs is always the goal,” Bucci said. “With this being my first official season (at Baldwin), we have to build a culture here like I have done before at previous spots.

“As far as coming back home, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be back.”

Bucci has been successful throughout his career. He coached at South Park for 16 seasons from 2000-06 and 2011-19. The Eagles were 131-65 during his second stint.

Under Bucci’s direction, South Park was a WPIAL runner-up in 2002, won a WPIAL title in 2013 and finished second in the WPIAL and state in 2017.

Bucci also coached at Serra Catholic, Canon-McMillan and Bethel Park and won a state championship with the Big Macs in 2008.

Prior to this season, his career record stood at 330-158.

“My philosophy in coaching has been the same for 25 years,” Bucci said. “We like to run. We like to put pressure on the other team. I really think in high school, if you have players that aren’t selfish about stats and are willing to put the ball in play and themselves in front of the team, I believe you will see a team that cares about each other and that becomes powerful.

“The game has changed to hitting home runs, which brings strikeouts in return. I would like to think we will be a more of a contact team down the road with small-ball mixed in with a running game in place. We will build the arms up from down below where the pitching and defense will be the standard.”

At Baldwin, Bucci acquired a program that went 7-9 in 2019, 4-8 in the section, and missed the WPIAL playoffs.

“All the schools I took over for had the same issues,” Bucci said, “so I am prepared to build Baldwin back up again. We have made some cosmetic changes to Wallace Field, and our athletic coordinator John Saras has been great to work with. I am proud to be back and looking forward to see this program grow.”

The Highlanders have nine seniors on the roster. The team also includes seven juniors and three sophomores. All varsity players saw playing time in the Highlanders’ first three games.

The starting lineup in the home opener consisted of Carson Chapel (CF), Dylan Wyse (C), Colton Brain (SS), Jon Rauch (P), Zack Ingold (RF), Derek Deering (2B), Connor Lavelle (LF), Chris Aul (3B) and Patrick Bobuk (1B).

Chapel and Wyse are sophomores. Rauch and Ingold are juniors. Brain, the team captain, Deering, Lavelle, Aul and Bobuk are seniors.

“We expect to win games and make a playoff run this year,” Brain said. “Our team strengths are working hard and having a good coaching staff. We have coaches that are willing to spend extra time when guys want extra work, and our players have a desire to get better every day.

“My personal goal this year is to set a positive example for the younger guys as Coach Bucci builds up the program.”

Other varsity players include seniors Anthony DeFazio (C), Tim Dowd (IF/OF), Fletcher Hindman (SS) and Mike Sabo (1B) and juniors Liam Gutendorf (1B/OF), Ashton Nort (OF), Nick Santillo (OF) and pitchers Jake Scarpino and Dom Stanziano. Hindman has signed to continue his baseball career at Davis & Elkins.

Outfielder Christian Forgacs is a sophomore.

Brain, the team’s opening day pitcher in Ohio, Aul, Rauch, Santillo, Stanziano, Ingold, Chapel and Forgacs were the early candidates for the Highlanders’ pitching staff. Rauch and Chapel are lefties.

Rauch hurled five innings of one-hit ball against TJ, striking out nine and walking two. Stanziano tossed one inning in relief with two strikeouts.

“Missing the 2020 season was horrible for everyone involved in the spring,” Bucci said. “It hurt us some just in being in a daily routine for the younger players and would have given this senior group more opportunities as juniors last season. Basically, the biggest season for most high school kids is their junior season. I think with us doing a fall ball program, it has helped the process for this season, for sure.”

Baldwin is a member of Section 2-6A along with Canon-McMillan, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair and Norwin, which was ranked No. 1 in Class 6A in the TribLive HSSN preseason rankings.

“My assistants are really good coaches,” Bucci said. “Mike Reilly is the pitching coach and Anthony Girdano is the hitting coach. My junior varsity coach is Jeff Bywalkski and his assistant is former Highlander Zack Kowalski. My freshman coaches are former Highlanders, Andy Cornell and A.J. Kravinsky, his assistant.

“I believe we will bring Baldwin back. We are all thrilled to work with this program and at the high school.”

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