Gateway players glad to compete in thriving summer baseball league

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020 | 5:23 PM


Born out of the cancellation of the spring high school season and the summer American Legion schedule, the Monroeville Gators, a group of players from Gateway and one from South Fayette, have mixed the fun of playing summer baseball with a focus on winning games in the Western Pennsylvania Baseball League.

“They were very upset when their season was canceled, so to be able to have this league for them was a blessing,” said Gateway coach Mark Wardzinski, who also is heading up this summer venture.

Wardzinski said the Gateway spring season was shaping up to be one of the better ones in his tenure with the program.

“This was going to be one of our stronger teams,” he said. “The senior leaders really committed early on with the program. They just kept everybody together. Everybody bought in.”

Wardzinski said the search was on to find a summer alternative, and with the help of Bob Johnson, a friend of the Gateway program, along with Billy Chruscial and Geno Sedlak, both of whom schedule umpires in the area, the WPBL took shape.

“They all really ran with it, and the response was great,” Wardzinski said of the league which came together early last month and began games three weeks ago.

For the Monroeville team, one of the 53 teams in the league, Wardzinski said there was no hesitation.

“I sent out the message, and within minutes, I had enough for a varsity team,” he said. “A week later, I sent the information out to the younger players, they were all on board, too. Right now, we have two teams with 14 or 15 on each team. It’s just unbelievable. Across the board, that was the response. So many were searching and hoping to find a way to play good baseball with teammates and friends.”

Wardzinski said the summer season is a great opportunity for the younger players to get in a lot of competition and for the coaches to see what is coming up for the future of the program.

Extended batting lineups, no pitch count and relaxed substitution rules are some of the features of the league.

The summer second chance was not lost on recent Gateway graduate Jaired Lehman.

“This opportunity has given us a boost and made us more motivated for our future in high school or college,” said Lehman, who will play baseball at the University of Mt. Union (Ohio) with teammate and fellow Gateway grad Jordan Stancovich.

Stancovich, one of the heart-and-soul members of the successful Gateway football teams the past couple of seasons, also will play football at Mt. Union.

“We all realize that you can’t take anything for granted,” Lehman said. “Something as simple as playing the game of baseball can be taken away so quickly. We all are having fun and working hard to win games.”

Other recent Gateway graduates set to continue their baseball careers include Donovan Baxter (Saint Vincent), Jared Busche (Penn State New Kensington) and Ethan Birckbichler (Scotland Prep).

Tyler Sharp, a key member of the South Fayette baseball team the past several seasons, also will join the baseball team at Mount Union.

“Tyler is a really good player,” Wardzinski said. “He didn’t have a summer team. He knew some of the guys on the team, and he asked if he could play. We’re glad he’s with us.”

Monroeville (3-1) travels to play Belle Vernon at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“They are just excited to continue playing ball with each other,” Wardzinski said.

Wardzinski said the recent rise in coronavirus cases has reminded players and coaches of the need to play the game in the safest environment possible.

“It’s a challenge sometimes,” he said. “It’s a difficult time right now, but we’re always looking to do the best we can.”

With the potential for change in the schedule, Wardzinski said his team still hopes to get 10 to 12 games in by the end of the regular season. A postseason tournament is slated to begin July 24.

Also, a league showcase, with scouts and college coaches in attendance, is in the works for later this month.

“I have a very competitive group, but at the same time, the standings don’t mean anything, so they understand they can go out and have fun, win or lose,” Wardzinski said. “I am having a lot of fun with these guys. It’s a great group of players.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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