Hampton ace Apaliski aims to build on breakout season

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Saturday, June 11, 2022 | 9:01 AM


If Hampton left-hander Ryan Apaliski improves this summer as much as he did last summer, Talbots coach Kellen Wheeler may start running out of superlatives.

Apaliski, who recently completed his junior year, used a strong summer of 2021 as a springboard to a first-team All-Section 2-5A performance this past season.

“He just grew so much,” Wheeler said. “I’ve actually never seen somebody grow as a pitcher as much as he did in one full year. Everything he worked on was amazing.”

Apaliski will play travel ball this summer with the Pittsburgh Spikes, competing in tournaments at Pitt, the University of Maryland and Cincinnati. He also plans to attend baseball camps at Virginia Tech and James Madison, while continuing to train at Battleground Baseball Group in Hampton and work with his Spikes pitching coach, Josh Sharpless, a Beaver County native and former MLB pitcher. Apaliski said his fastball has been clocked in the mid-80s, enhancing a vastly improved slider and sinker.

“I know he’s going to come back stronger,” Wheeler said. “I know he’s going to work his butt off to do even better next year.”

Apaliski will look to build on a breakout junior season in which he went 4-3 with a 2.78 ERA and 67 strikeouts and 19 walks in 45 1/3 innings. He pitched his best in section play, going 4-2 with a 1.73 ERA and 55 strikeouts, along with 14 walks, in 36 1/3 innings. His effort was enough to earn him first-team all-section honors as Hampton (10-10) opened 8-0 in section play, its best start since 2013.

This came after an uneven sophomore season in which Apaliski threw only eight innings for varsity, all out of the bullpen.

“Personally, I’d say I put out probably my best performance that I have in all my career of baseball,” Apaliski said of his ‘22 season. “I definitely felt the most content and calm on the mound. I really felt like I had my stuff together this season and the consistency was there. It felt good.”

Apaliski’s transformation began midway through his sophomore season, when control issues prompted Wheeler to demote his young left-hander to junior varsity for a couple of starts. Apaliski pitched well at the JV level and gained confidence, carrying that into last summer.

“That’s exactly why we sent him down last year,” Wheeler said. “We knew he had the stuff. It was just the in-game situations that he needed to figure out and get through for him to be able to what he did this year.”

Apaliski, a 5-foot-11, 200-pounder, understood the motives for his demotion. He said his control and mound demeanor as a sophomore was “definitely an issue.”

“It didn’t feel good (getting demoted), but at the same time I trusted my coach,” Apaliski said. “Sometimes you’ve got to step back and look at it from a different perspective to realize what’s really going on. … I’m not mad that he sent me down. Looking back on it now, it really did help me.”

Apaliski performed well in the big games this spring, including a five-hitter in a 6-1 win over Fox Chapel, a complete-game effort in a 2-1 walk-off loss to Plum, and a solid showing in the 4-3 loss to Penn-Trafford on May 17 in the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

He credits the success to some tinkering with his mechanics during last summer and a much-improved mental approach on the mound.

“Last year was a completely different game for me,” he said. “I didn’t have the control and the consistency down. I also wasn’t very strong mentally. I let a lot of things get to me, and I showed emotion on the mound and that definitely hurt my game.

“Last summer was kind of the turnaround point for me. I became more consistent with my control and my mechanics. Come high school season, I told myself, ‘It’s going to be different.’ I’m going to stick with my stuff and stay within myself and believe, and it definitely worked.”

Apaliski’s older brother, Ethan, was one of top swimmers for Hampton’s 2021 WPIAL Class 2A championship team, and Ryan qualified for the WPIAL diving championships as a freshman in 2020. But baseball has always been his first love since he started playing in the backyard at his Hampton home with his parents and brother when he was barely big enough to pick up a bat.

“I just always wanted to play baseball,” he said.

Apaliski, who hopes to play in college and has been in contact with Virginia Tech, Dartmouth and Xavier, learned something unusual about himself at an early age. Although he did virtually everything right-handed, he could throw a baseball better with his left arm.

“Almost every single thing, I do righty,” he said. “I can throw a football and a Frisbee perfectly with my right hand. But it’s something with a baseball. It just feels better in the left hand.

“When I was about 6-7 years old, I was still able to throw pretty well with my right hand. But every time I threw with my left hand, it was harder and more accurate. So I remember my dad telling me, ‘Let’s just stick with this.’ “

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