Gateway hopes confidence carries over after strong performance in last year’s baseball playoffs
Sunday, March 5, 2023 | 11:01 AM
The Gateway baseball team entered last year’s WPIAL Class 5A playoffs as the 15th seed after tying for fourth place in Section 1 with McKeesport at 3-7.
But the Gators didn’t let their seed get to them as they took on No. 2 Bethel Park.
Gateway took the eventual PIAA champion to the limit and then some, falling to the Black Hawks, 6-5, in 11 innings on a walk-off double.
With a strong core group of returning starters and others ready to step in, veteran Gators coach Mark Wardzinski said he’s excited for what his team can accomplish this season
“We took the state champs into extra innings,” Wardzinski said. “It showed that we were right where we should’ve been. The guys were confident in their chances to win no matter who we played.”
Adding to the excitement and anticipation for the season are the renovations to the field which includes a new field turf surface and a bigger scoreboard in left field among other upgrades.
While there is work on and around the field still to be done, the team has been able enjoy some warm, dry days for on-field workouts.
“We’re looking forward to playing games on this surface,” said Wardzinski, who coached his team at home only twice last year as some pre-renovation work was being conducted.
“We’re excited to get games in and not have to worry about rainouts. But the guys handled it really well. We told them to concentrate on the things they could control, and that was how they played on the field, no matter where that was. The guys played really well in some big games on the road last year. I think our record (8-11 overall) was a little deceiving. We had a lot of close games last year where we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Three of Gateway’s seven section losses last year came by two runs or less.
“It feels great to be on the turf,” senior Nate Demchak said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We’re all excited. We’ve been putting in the work since November with lifting and workouts in the old gym. As a senior, I am really looking forward to the season and playing with my guys. We have great team chemistry.”
Demchak, a Westminster commit who batted .350 last year with a team-best 21 hits and eight doubles, will be back in center field and also will pitch.
Fellow senior Nolan Boehm is expected to lead the pitching rotation and will also play in right field and at first base when he’s not on the mound.
Boehm started against Bethel Park and pitched into the seventh inning.
“He pitched very well against Bethel Park,” Wardzinski said.
Seniors Brandon Bell and Brody Clemens also are back after starting regularly last year. Clemens led the team in batting (.375).
Wardzinski said he is excited for a trio of players — juniors Tali Thompson and Alec Dunsmore, and freshman Grady Dunsmore — who are members of the Gateway boys basketball team which still is alive in the PIAA playoffs.
The Gators take on District 3’s Hershey on Saturday in the first round of states.
“We will be missing them for at least a week,” Wardzinski said.
“I wish they were here, but I also hope they keep winning and go as far as they can. That is a great experience for them, and I hope they take full advantage of it. I want them to finish that season before we even talk baseball.”
Thompson (shortstop) also is back as a starter. He collected three doubles and drove in 10 runs last year.
Alec Dunsmore and junior Noah Colberg also are candidates to bolster the pitching staff, as well as Thompson and Clemens.
“There are a number of guys ready to jump in and fill the spots of the guys we lost (Ryan Greggerson and Grady Otterman),” Wardzinski said.
Carson Engleka, a force behind the plate several years for the Gators, graduated and now is playing at Division III Mt. Union in Ohio.
“Carson was such a competitor, and we’re going to miss him,” Wardzinski said. “But we have some guys that are ready to compete.”
Three players — junior Elliot Sterner, sophomore Jayden Lewis and Grady Dunsmore — all are vying for starting time at catcher.
Sterner returns to baseball this season after playing lacrosse last spring.
Floyd McKenna, a multi-year starter for the Gators, moved to Florida and no longer is on the team. He hit two home runs against Bethel Park.
Gateway will do battle in a revamped Section 1 with mainstays Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford, both playoff qualifiers last year, and will take on new section opponents in Armstrong, Fox Chapel, Penn Hills and Plum.
Plum and Fox Chapel qualified for the playoffs last year from Section 2.
“We have a tough section,” Wardzinski said. “Plum and Fox Chapel moving in are going to be tough teams to face. We already know what we’re getting from Franklin and P-T. I really don’t know too much yet about Armstrong and Penn Hills because we just haven’t played them. There will be no easy games.”
The Gators will christen their renovated field with a pair of scrimmages — Monday against Hempfield and March 16 against Highlands.
Gateway is slated to kick off its season March 22 at home against Hampton. Wardzinski said he hopes to have a ceremony to celebrate the day.
“I can’t wait for us to get after it,” Wardzinski said.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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