Fox Chapel baseball optimistic despite heavy turnover from last season

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Monday, March 9, 2020 | 7:10 PM


Fox Chapel will have to replace 11 seniors, six of their starting nine and most of the pitching staff from a team that went 10-8 and made the WPIAL playoffs, but Foxes coach Jim Hastings has some pieces returning and others coming through the pipeline to help offset the losses.

That starts with standout senior catcher Alex McRandal, who will be asked to be a key member in the lineup and mentor a pitching staff lacking varsity experience.

McRandal, a Division III Heidelberg recruit, is a four-year starter. He was a second-team All-Section catcher last season, and Hastings lauded his defensive ability as well as his capabilities of being a leader.

“He’s one of the most mature kids that I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been coaching football and baseball for almost 20 years now,” Hastings said. “It’s amazing the level of knowledge that he has for a high school kid. He’ll definitely help our pitchers and our pitching coaches have been working with them, too. You can see the development.”

The Foxes graduated the five pitchers who logged the most innings last season in Jonathan Simon, Mitchell Miles, Noah Marks, Vinnie Ninehouser and Kenny Buettner.

Their top three hitters for average — TJ Johnston, Matt Jerpe and Jacob Gruden — also graduated.

The Foxes will turn to junior Dante DiMatteo to eat up innings. DiMatteo lacks varsity experience, but Hastings said he has impressive stuff.

“He’s a kid that we think can give us the majority of our innings on the mound,” Hastings aid. “He’s a talented kid that has a great arm.”

Aiden Humes, a senior, is someone Hastings said could slot in as the No. 2 pitcher, while being a starter in the infield. Another junior, Luke Hudic, pitched well for the Foxes’ junior varsity team last season and will see varsity time.

Along with McRandal, senior first baseman/designated hitter Gavin Donaldson will anchor the middle of the lineup. Donaldson is a three-year starter. Senior outfielder Branden Sipetich, who started seven games last season, will be counted upon for offense.

Hastings has been happy with the results he has seen during offseason training and is interested in how that will translate to games.

“I’m anxious to see it on the field,” he said. “You can do all you want at practice, in the cage and in the bullpen, but once we’re out there competing against another team, that will tell us where we are and how good we can be.”

Fox Chapel plays in Section 1-5A, where they finished third last season behind PIAA qualifier Franklin Regional and Gateway. Kiski Area was the other playoff team. Armstrong, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills also are in the section.

“I felt we have a lot of really good teams in the section,” Hastings said. “Even the teams that didn’t make the playoffs gave us some tough games. There isn’t much separating top to bottom. I would probably expect Gateway and Franklin Regional to be the favorites based on what they have coming back. Kiski Area will be very good. They have a lot of kids coming back. Penn Hills also have kids back that played us really tough. You can’t over look anybody.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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