Franklin Regional baseball hopes talent overcomes lack of experience

Sunday, March 11, 2018 | 6:39 PM

A season after eight seniors played key roles in Franklin Regional's run to the WPIAL baseball quarterfinals, the Panthers have just one senior.

That means the Panthers will need many of their younger players to develop quickly.

Among the players who have moved on from last year's 12-7 squad are catcher Michael Haley, first baseman Noah Weiner, second baseman Zach Simchick, shortstop Wil Constantin, center fielder Hunter Hughes and all-section pitcher Joe Constantin.

Those departures have not changed the outlook for the Panthers, however, according to eighth-year coach Bobby Saddler.

“Expectations are the same,” he said. “We did lose a lot of quality players, but we have quality players in the program that are up and coming now.”

The lone senior, Alex Frey, figures to be instrumental in the team's fortunes. The hard-throwing left-hander will take over as the top starting pitcher.

Joining Frey on the mound will be a trio of juniors: Michael Klingensmith, Bronson Ianno and Palmer Jackson. Jackson also is one of the premier golfers in the WPIAL.

Another rising talent is junior Jake Williams, who will shift from third base to shortstop.

“He's a five-tool guy,” Saddler said. “He has good speed, a great arm, can hit the ball for contact and power — everything.”

Bryce Harper, who played extensively as a freshman last season, takes over as the full-time catcher. Harper gave a verbal commitment to Virginia Tech during the offseason.

“He's doing a great job defensively,” Saddler said. “He shuts down the running game, does a great job calling the game. And then he provides pop in the middle of the order.”

Junior David Baird is expected to see extensive playing time in the outfield. His role expanded when returning all-section right fielder Tommy Kegerreis suffered an injury in the offseason.

More questions figure to be answered after Panthers return from their March 22-28 trip to Vero Beach, Fla.

“When you have so many positions open, there are going to be battles that you don't know until once you start playing,” Saddler said. “Everybody is going to get a chance to showcase themselves. Once we begin section play, that's whenever we'd like to basically know who our guys are and be confident in the core guys we're putting out there.”

Defense will continue to be a focal point.

“That is something that we have made a priority to work on this offseason. Fundamentally, I believe we are sound. It's just keeping that focus pitch-in and pitch-out,” Saddler stated.

Although the Panthers lack the experience of last year's squad, the talent level could be on par. Something else, however, is missing.

“The one thing we need is leadership. People to step up, hold each other accountable, and I think if we do that, I think we can replicate last year,” Saddler said.

The Panthers finished at 10-4 in the section, tied with Thomas Jefferson for second place. The first-place team, Latrobe, won WPIAL and PIAA titles. Gateway also qualified for the postseason. Laurel Highlands, Albert Gallatin, Woodland Hills and McKeesport round out Section 3-5A.

“There aren't any ‘gimme' games in our section. You have to come after it every single game, and if you don't, you're going to leave with a loss. As soon as you think you have an easy game, that becomes a trap game,” Saddler said. “If you look at the playoffs and how our teams fared, that lets you know the quality of our section.”

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.


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