Derry baseball sets sights on return to WPIAL playoffs
By: Ray Fisher
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 | 5:18 PM
Derry's baseball team is determined to return to the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.
The Trojans tied for fourth place with Greensburg Salem in Section 1 last season, lost a first-round playoff decision to Hopewell, and ended up 11-8 overall.
“I am optimistic,” coach John Flickinger said. “We have a nice core of seniors that have been starters for two to three years, and we have a solid young group to complement them. We have a very competitive section, so I think it will certainly come down to solid pitching and good defense.
“Winning more one-run games than you lose usually puts you in the postseason race at the end. We were able to win a couple close ones last season, which enabled us to get in.”
Part of Flickinger's optimism revolves on five returning starters, led by senior catcher Isaac Buterbaugh, a fourth-year varsity player who will continue his career at Gannon.
“I expect us to be able to come together as a family not just a team,” Buterbaugh said. “To learn from our mistakes in the past, and in the future be able to use them to create more wins than we've ever had. And to fire on all cylinders during the entirety of the season.”
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Buterbaugh was an all-section selection last season when he hit .328 with 14 RBIs. At Derry, he also has been an all-section golfer and a WPIAL qualifier in swimming.
Flickinger said Buterbaugh has outstanding defensive skills behind the plate. Last season, the Derry catcher threw out 13 would-be base stealers.
“Hitting has been our downfall in the past, so during preseason workouts we've focused on the offensive side of the game,” Buterbaugh said. “Using our pitching staff, we're trying to get a head start on seeing live pitches.”
Derry lost three impact players to graduation in Zack Blystone, Alex Ulery and Josh Bauer. The three combined to hit .387 last season with 70 hits, 56 RBIs, 61 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. The trio also chalked up seven of the team's 11 pitching wins.
However, the Derry coaches welcomed back five returning senior starters — Conner Watt, Ryan Polinsky, Joe Lynch, Tristen Grimm and Buterbaugh. Junior Donte Klapchar also is a returning starter.
“Since we have all been with the program for multiple years, we can focus on more challenging techniques and parts of the game instead of taking the time to review things from last year,” Buterbaugh said.
Watt, the starting point guard on the basketball team, is a pitcher/shortstop who can also play in the outfield. On the mound, he was 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 25 innings in 2017. He also stole 11 bases.
“Conner is a solid defensive player both at shortstop and in the outfield,” Flickinger said.
Polinsky, an outfielder and three-year quarterback, batted .315 with 16 RBIs last season.
“Ryan's very good defensively with a strong arm,” Flickinger said.
Lynch is a left-handed hurler who finished with a 2-0 record and 3.06 ERA in 2017.
“Joe was a valuable part of our success on the mound a year ago, giving us solid innings,” Flickinger said.
Grimm will start in the outfield once again.
Klapchar is a two-year starter at second base. He played in all 19 games a year ago and committed just two errors.
“Donte was one of the top second baseman defensively in the section a year ago,” Flickinger said. “He hopes to improve on his batting average this season.”
Several players are vying for playing time at the corner infield positions, namely senior Anthony Oshie, junior Jordan Baum and Lynch at first base; and sophomore Aidan Bushey, junior Zack Karaschak and senior Christian Thompson at third base.
The Trojans' pitching corps is anchored by Watt and Lynch, and also includes seniors Dominick Jellison, Nico Beatrice and Polinsky, and junior Nate Angus.
“Dom Jellison missed his junior year and is making a strong push to crack the starting lineup and pitching rotation,” Flickinger said. “Nico Beatrice will do some pitching for us and also will see action in the outfield.”
Derry started out 5-1 last year, which included a 3-2 win against section champion Knoch. The Trojans clinched a playoff berth by winning three of their final four regular-season games.
“We need to build off our accomplishments of a year ago and work hard to get back,” said Flickinger, who was an All-American and all-conference catcher at IUP. “We definitely have the experience to achieve our goals, but we need to perform at a high level each time we take the field.
“We don't have that ‘dominant' player who will win a few games for you. But we have solid baseball athletes that when they consistently play well, we will have a chance to win on a consistent basis.”
Flickinger has coached baseball at Derry since 1999 with the exception of one season, and has been the Trojans' field boss since 2012 (with three playoff appearances).
Not only is the veteran coach optimistic about this season, he is upbeat about the future of the program.
“I can remember my first year when we had an outstanding group of freshman, and I knew they would thrive in the years to come,” he said. “That team, in their junior and senior seasons, went to the second round of the WPIAL playoffs. This year's freshman squad reminds me of that team, and may be better. Only time will tell.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.
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