Derry baseball looks to build on last season’s strong finish

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Saturday, March 9, 2019 | 7:59 PM


Injuries early last season propelled the Derry baseball team into oblivion by midseason, but it was an opportunity to build for the future.

The Trojans return five starters among eight lettermen, hoping to continue the success of a season-ending, three-game winning streak accomplished with an inexperienced lineup.

“We saved our best for last,” Derry coach John Flickinger said.

Headlining the returnees is senior second baseman Donte Klapchar, a WPIAL Section 1 second-team selection after batting .389 with 14 RBIs and 14 runs scored and a fielding percentage of .978 in his third season as a full-time starter.

“He’s a pure leader by example. He almost serves as a coach on the field,” Flickinger said. “His defensive skills were always there, but we were hoping for his bat to come around, and he delivered last year.”

By season’s end, though, five freshmen regularly were in the Trojans lineup. The final game resulted in a 6-0 victory over then-Class 5A Latrobe after Derry had defeated Indiana and Freeport in its final WPIAL Section 1-4A games by a combined score of 18-6.

“We had a big, outstanding freshman class last year,” said Flickinger, who enters his eighth season as coach. “When these injuries came about, we were forced to move some guys up. One thing it did was get them some playing time and experience for the future.”

Derry, which closed with a 6-13 record and salvaged a 3-11 mark in section games, began the year with a healthy bunch, opening its schedule with a tough 1-0 loss to Deer Lakes.

What followed were a string of illnesses and injuries, including a concussion to catcher Isaac Gutterbaugh, now at Division II Gannon, that fueled a flurry of more losses, some of which were lopsided — by 14 runs to Class 6A Norwin, 13 to Knoch and 10 to Yough.

Flickinger said it made for a frustrating time, though he added, “I liked the way we ended our season. Guys jumped in there, and the seniors wanted to go after the remaining games.”

Three other seniors figure to be in the mix for regular playing time, including right-handed pitcher/infielder Zack Karaschak, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder who has played first and third base. He homered twice last season.

“He came in this year in great shape,” Flickinger said. “We’re looking for big things from him on the mound. He’s a hard-throwing right-hander.”

The others are left-hander Nate Angus and right-hander/outfielder Trey Weinell, who returns to the team after taking a year off.

“With this team, I look at it as big brother-little brother,” Flickinger said. “We’ve got four seniors, one junior, 11 sophomores and seven freshmen.”

Underclassmen will make up much of the starting lineup, Flickinger said. Sophomores Ryan Bushey and Josh Ulery will likely be in the infield, and sophomore Matt McDowell could open in an outfield spot.

Junior Austin Siko will continue at catcher after taking over a midseason a year ago and throwing out six of 11 baserunners.

Other candidates on the mound include Ulery and fellow sophomores Ty Cymmerman and Paul Koontz, who was 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings as a freshman.

Derry is scheduled to open the new year at the inaugural Latrobe Classic on March 22 against Class 5A Laurel Highlands.

Flickinger is excited about the potential for a strong comeback season and a return to the WPIAL playoffs, where, since 2012, the team has qualified in every other year, last appearing in 2017.

“This is our year to make it again,” Flickinger said. “We’ll see.

“What I like about this team is there are a lot of guys pushing guys for positions. That’s a good thing. We have positions open. There’s nothing given.”

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