Hampton baseball deals with numbers crunch

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Saturday, March 27, 2021 | 10:01 AM


Turns out the pandemic isn’t finished with the Hampton baseball team.

A year after covid-19 canceled all spring sports, the Talbots had only 27 players try out this spring, by far the lowest number in third-year coach Kellen Wheeler’s 12 seasons associated with the Hampton baseball program.

“I usually have 37 to 40, and I have to make about five cuts a year,” he said. “I think it was last year (being canceled). I think kids realized, sadly, that maybe when the pandemic started and they weren’t playing, maybe they didn’t miss it as much as I thought they would have.”

Between injuries and quarantines, the Talbots had only 21 players available — varsity and junior varsity combined — for their March 23 scrimmage against McKeesport. The varsity planned to dress 12 players and the JV team the bare minimum, nine.

But the Talbots vow to press on despite a lack of numbers.

“(Last year) really hurt the team and just the whole spirit of baseball for everybody,” said junior center fielder Adam Dembowski, one of the top outfielders in the Talbots’ new-look section. “I think it knocked out the drive to play for some kids. But we’re back at it now, and we all feel great to be back out here.”

The Talbots will contend with Armstrong, Fox Chapel, Mars, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills in Section 2-5A as they seek a fourth consecutive playoff appearance for the first time in program history.

Mars is the lone holdover from 2019, when the Talbots won the section.

Only a handful of regular starters return from that 2019 squad, including senior catcher Brock Mattiuz, pitcher/first baseman Michael Kosko and Dembowski.

Mattiuz said team speed and pitching depth will be team strengths.

“Hopefully, we will be able to take bases when we can get them,” he said, “stealing bases and putting pressure on the other teams.”

A pair of left-handers, Kosko and junior Cam Marshalwitz, will anchor the rotation.

Another lefty, sophomore Ryan Apaliski, along with Mattiuz and Shane Bischke and junior Vinnie Matthews, also will see innings.

“I have a lot of pitching,” said Wheeler, who played at Hampton from 1999-2002 and was named the 2019 Section 2-5A coach of the year. “That’s a good thing.”

Kosko and Marshalwitz will split time at first base, depending on which one is pitching. Other infield starters are junior second baseman Cole Lux, promising sophomore shortstop Eric Weeks and third baseman Matthews.

Senior Ethan Apaliski and sophomores Zach Carr and Ryan Apaliski will handle the corner outfield spots.

Providing depth will be sophomore second baseman Anthony Bucci, junior third basemen Brayden Husser and Charlie Schuit and senior outfielders Ethan Varley and Mason Anthony.

Dembowski will boost the lineup from the No. 3 or No. 4 spot. He hit .357 in six games as a freshman, missing about 11 games with an ankle injury. The 6-foot, 175-pound Dembowski, who plays for a USA Elite baseball travel team, said he added about 20 pounds since his freshman year. Michigan State, Navy and Marshall are some of the Division I schools showing interest in him.

“Defensively, he’s one of the best outfielders I’ve seen in high school,” Wheeler said.

Offensively, the Talbots struggled in their opening scrimmage against Class 6A Butler on March 17, striking out 16 times. Wheeler said he hopes that was “a fluke.”

“I think Butler’s pitching was pretty good,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to be doing that. If we do, we’re in trouble.”

The Talbots, who were scheduled to open the season March 26 at Upper St. Clair, have a chance for a quick start in section. They play back-to-back games with Woodland Hills on March 29-30 and Penn Hills on April 6-7. Woodland Hills is 37-100 with one playoff appearance in the past eight years, and Penn Hills is 32-103 in that span and hasn’t reached the WPIAL playoffs in a decade.

“I’m looking forward to a good season,” Dembowski said. “I think we’re going to be very competitive in our section, and we’ve just got to see what happens.”

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