Freeport’s departing seniors helped rebuild baseball program

Monday, June 5, 2023 | 11:09 AM

Even though only one baseball team in each classification gets to celebrate a title at the end of the year, members of the Freeport baseball program can’t be too upset with how their season turned out.

After winning only five games in each of the last two seasons, the Yellowjackets finished 15-6 overall with a 9-3 record in Section 3-3A. Freeport’s season came to an end after an 11-1 loss to No. 1 Riverside in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs May 22.

No. 8 Freeport beat No. 9 South Allegheny, 9-2, in the first round May 18.

The Yellowjackets won six of the seven down the stretch of the regular season to put them in position to capture the section title in their last section game against East Allegheny. However, Freeport dropped the decisive game 11-1 on May 10 after beating East Allegheny, 7-2, a day earlier.

“From those seniors that were involved in the rebuild, we felt like we got 100% buy in. When you have that, they lead by example. It became more about playing for each other, having a team-first mentality, and they were a very selfless team,” coach Ed Car said.

“When guys started to get hurt, we started realizing for us to win baseball games we are going to have to score runs and do the little things. They really played for each other. It was as much a family atmosphere as I ever had in 20 years of coaching.”

The Yellowjackets were led by a trio of underclassmen on the mound. Sophomores Dustin Rape and Michael Hanz finished with sub-2.00 ERAs in the regular season.

Rape had a 1.47 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 17 walks, and Hanz finished with a 1.81 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 18 walks in the regular season.

Junior Matt Corfield finished with a 2.92 ERA with 27 strikeouts and five walks.

The Freeport pitching staff struck out 145 batters while allowing only 56 walks in the regular season.

At the plate, senior Zach Clark led the Yellowjackets with a .518 batting average, .616 on-base percentage, 12 doubles and 21 RBIs during the regular season.

The Yellowjackets used the speed of senior Tyler Asti and senior Brady Stivenson to generate action on the base paths as the pair combined for 44 stolen bases in the regular season. Asti finished with a .535 OBP and 23 runs scored, and Stivenson finished with a .446 OBP and 17 runs scored. Senior Jack Smetak also got on base a lot with a .478 OBP but also finished with seven doubles, four triples and 17 RBIs.

Freeport finished with 98 stolen bases and got caught only six times.

“We can look at the batting average, RBIs and the runs scored, but those guys who were getting on base and with the way they were running the bases they were essential to our run production,” Carr said.

Even though the team fell short of a championship, the senior class played a huge part in laying the groundwork for Freeport’s program for years to come.

The one unsung senior Carr couldn’t stop praising was Eli Abbott.

“He didn’t play much, but he’s the best leader I’ve ever had. His positivity and enthusiasm was infectious to this team. We don’t turn this program around without the leadership from Eli Abbott,” Carr said.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t necessarily about how far we got at the end of the year. It was about the journey back to winning and developing a winning culture.”

Looking forward to next year, the Yellowjackets will lean on the pitching staff as they replace key contributors at the plate. They will need underclassmen to step in, especially up the middle where seniors are departing: Clark, Smetak, Stivenson and Jonathan Hotalski.

“The plus side of being young the last few years is that we were able to throw a lot of guys out there. There are a lot of guys with experience. We feel like we have an extremely talented freshmen class coming in next year. A lot of them are three-sport athletes and a tremendously athletic group,” Carr said.

“You can’t expect to be the same exact team. We are going to have to rely on our pitching and defense a little, especially at the start of the season.”


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