Hampton baseball season punctuated by playoff win

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Saturday, June 3, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Things looked bleak for the Hampton baseball team at midseason.

A 10-6 nonsection loss at Montour on April 20 dropped the Talbots to 3-8 overall, and they had lost three consecutive Section 4-4A games to fall to 2-4.

“It was not doing the little things,” senior ace left-haander Ryan Apaliski said. “I think we kind of struggled with that. But we cleaned it up.”

Faced with a string of pivotal section games after their poor start, the Talbots fought their way into the WPIAL Class 4A tournament with a five-game winning streak and responded with the program’s first playoff victory since 2018.

Hampton was one of only four schools to reach the WPIAL playoffs this spring in baseball, softball, boys and girls lacrosse and boys and girls track and field. The others were North Allegheny, Norwin and South Fayette.

“We kept fighting,” fifth-year coach Kellen Wheeler said. “I was very proud of the guys, how they played and performed throughout the season, especially at the end of the season.”

The Talbots, seeded No. 9, blanked No. 8 Ringgold, 9-0, on May 17 in the WPIAL Class 4A first round for their elusive playoff victory before falling to top-seeded Montour, 2-0, on May 22 at West Mifflin in the WPIAL quarterfinals. The Talbots, who have reached the playoffs six years in a row, finished 9-10 overall, going 6-2 down the stretch.

Apaliski, a James Madison recruit, was masterful in both postseason games, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and striking out 17 against Ringgold and allowing one earned run on three hits in six innings in the loss to Montour.

The victory over Ringgold helped ease the sting of a pair of tough first-round defeats the past two years.

“I just told myself that I’m not going to let our team be a first-round exit this year like last year,” said Apaliski, who this season went 5-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. “It was definitely something that we wanted.”

The other seniors were second baseman Anthony Bucci (.338, 18 runs), Canisius-bound shortstop Eric Weeks (.333, 14 RBI, 18 runs), first baseman Braxton Eastly, outfielder Zach Carr, pitcher Matt Moser, who returned from a second ACL injury to earn the closer’s role, and Joey O’Donnell, who missed the season with an injury.

The feel-good story of the season was Moser’s return. He tore an ACL as a junior and, after fighting back to prepare for his senior baseball season, suffered another knee injury just before the start of spring practice. Knowing surgery would end any hopes of playing, Moser opted out of the procedure and joined the team a month into the season, pitching with a knee brace. He finished with one save and a 1.00 ERA in seven innings.

“Every time he went out on the field, he did his job,” Wheeler said. “I couldn’t even imagine him ever playing a game in high school after he hurt his knee again. It was so much fun being able to watch him get out there and play and pitch and perform as well as he did.”

Key returning players include pitcher Caleb Custer (2-2, 3.35 ERA), pitcher/outfielder Matt Erka (.295, 13 RBIs, 11 runs), outfielder Sean Sullivan (11 RBIs) and infielder Brady Long (13 RBIs), all rising seniors; and a pair of juniors-to-be, catcher Justin Dubee (.370, 13 runs) and third baseman/designated hitter Brady Smith.

“(The playoff win) was one of the best feelings for the players and the coaching staff, with all of the hard work that these kids put in this year,” Wheeler said. “The kids wanted to do it, and they worked hard. That pushed us ahead and got us to that first playoff victory for the kids.”

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