Experienced Riverview baseball team adjusts to Class 2A competition

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Saturday, March 11, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The Riverview baseball team lost just two starters from last year’s WPIAL playoff qualifier.

While catcher Taylor Zellefrow and pitcher/outfielder Vinnie Shook will surely be missed after producing strong varsity careers, veteran coach Bill Gras said the returning starters and others ready to step up and step into new roles are preparing well for what can be done, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

“The guys came in with a business-like attitude,” said Gras, who saw his Raiders finish 4-6 and in fourth place in Section 3-A last year and produce a 7-11 overall record.

“They want to go to work.”

Riverview bumped up to Class 2A for the next two-year cycle.

Gone are section games against the likes of Eden Christian, Sewickley Academy and Leechburg.

The Raiders’ new foes include Apollo-Ridge, Brentwood, Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette, Ligonier Valley and Serra Catholic.

Riverview is somewhat familiar with Serra Catholic and Apollo-Ridge having played both last season. The Raiders met GCC in the Class A quarterfinals in 2021 and scored a 6-2 win en route to the WPIAL championship game and a berth in the PIAA playoffs.

“It’s going to be a big challenge up in 2A,” Gras said. “But they have the confidence they can do well. We have all of those coming back. A number of them were a part of the run to the WPIAL championship game two years ago.”

Gras said the seniors are a united group hoping to make the best of their third and final year. They missed their freshman season in 2020 because of the growing covid pandemic.

“I’ve worked with this group of seniors for six years, since junior Legion,” Gras said. “I really hope they can go out on a really good note.”

Gras said he saw some good work done in winter conditioning workouts while about half of the team also played basketball.

“A lot of the guys were also conditioned through basketball,” Gras said. “It wasn’t baseball conditioning, but it was conditioning. (March 6) being the first time on the field, we were a little rusty. We could tell. But these guys have that experience where they know where they need to be and what they need to do to be ready to play games and compete.”

Junior Aidan Draxinger will take over behind the plate.

“It will be tough to replace Taylor, both with the bat and his knowledge of the game and being able to take command of the game,” Gras said.

“But I have all the confidence in the world that Aidan will pull through and have a good season. The pitchers have thrown to him, and they are comfortable throwing to him. “

Seniors Enzo Lio and Ben Hower led the returnees in pitching wins last year with two apiece.

Hower struck out 40 in 24 innings of work, and Lio logged 27 2/3 innings on the mound. Fellow senior John Patsey again is expected to be a force in the rotation.

Also looked upon in the pitching staff are sophomores Johnny Bertucci and Tyler Aftanas.

Junior Jack Loughren is back healthy from a badly broken leg suffered early in the football season. He missed all but one game of the Riverview basketball season. Gras said Loughren still is working on a couple of things to be at 100%.

Last year, Loughren led the team in batting (.308), hits (16), runs batted in (10) and runs scored (13).

“I am ready to go, and I can’t wait for this season,” Loughren said. “I want to bring that energy to the team. After my injury, I am not taking anything for granted.”

Gras sees a versatile lineup defensively, knowing that is key to success at the smallest classification.

Lio is working at first base when he’s not pitching, and Hower, Aftanas, Patsey, Loughren and Bertucci; seniors Luke Migely, Cam Shane and Daniel Roupas; and sophomore Eli DeVita are among those who will be at positions in the infield and outfield.

Senior Kevin Tomlinson, Gras said, is a newcomer to the team who has the potential to make an impact.

“He’s done a great job so far,” Gras said. “He hasn’t played since seventh or eighth grade, but he’s stepped in the first day and smacked the crap out of the ball.

“We have eight seniors overall, and it is a pretty strong leadership group.”

The Raiders were to test themselves in a scrimmage against East Allegheny at Riverside Park, and they are slated to visit Class 5A Penn Hills for a second scrimmage Thursday.

Riverview opens its season Monday (March 20), at home against St. Joseph before traveling to take on Gateway on March 24.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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