Hampton baseball turns focus to next season after up-and-down year

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Saturday, May 29, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The final out of Hampton’s 2021 baseball season was a deep drive against West Allegheny in the WPIAL Class 5A playoff opener.

Senior Brock Mattiuz hit the ball “as far as I’ve ever seen the kid hit it,” coach Kellen Wheeler said, but West Allegheny’s outfielder tracked down the bases-loaded shot at spacious Burkett Field in Robinson.

The close call was emblematic of the Talbots’ season: They just didn’t have quite enough.

Hampton closed its season with a 14-1 five-inning loss to No. 3 seed West Allegheny on May 19, ending a year for a youthful team that featured plenty of ups and downs.

“It was a sad ending to the season,” Wheeler said. “But all in all, our first goal was to win the section. That didn’t happen. Our second goal was to get in the playoffs, and we got in the playoffs. So we got one of those first two goals.”

Hampton (7-12) reached the WPIAL playoffs for the 13th time in the past 15 seasons, but a late-season skid dropped the Talbots to a No. 14 seed and a tough first-round matchup. They lost five of six down the stretch, doomed by an ill-timed slump at the plate that saw them score a total of nine runs in their final five games.

“We came out of the season really swinging,” said junior pitcher/first baseman Cam Marshalwitz, a first-team all-Section 2-5A selection. “But a lot of us fell into a little bit of a slump, and that’s just what happens.”

Said Wheeler, “We just hit a wall. We weren’t getting the key hits when we needed the key hits. The timely hits were a very, very big problem in the last five games.”

The Talbots started out 4-3 but won only three games in the final five weeks. They finished with the program’s worst record by winning percentage (.368) since the 2000 team went 5-9. It was their fewest wins in a season since ‘03 (6-10) and matched the 1999 team (3-12) for the most losses in at least 23 years.

But considering the 2020 season was wiped out by the pandemic and the Talbots had the fewest number of kids try out for the team (27) in Wheeler’s 12 seasons with the program, there were plenty of bright spots. Among them were an early-season 8-7 win at Armstrong, a memorable 4-3 extra-inning walk-off against Fox Chapel, a 4-2 win over Class 6A Pine-Richland and a 3-1 victory over eventual section champion Plum.

“I think we were all blessed to have an opportunity to play this year (because of covid-19),” Marshalwitz said. “It really could have ended at any time. We were fortunate enough to make it through the whole season and make the playoffs. So we really can’t complain.”

Sophomore Anthony Bucci took over the starting job at second base in the opening week and never relinquished it. He batted .400 in section play, led the Talbots with 14 RBIs, and didn’t commit an error all season. Opposing coaches took notice, voting him first-team all-section.

“He was unreal,” Wheeler said. “He just went in there and from the get-go, he kept contributing. He was the biggest surprise of the team this year, and I couldn’t speak more highly of him.”

Marshalwitz hit over .450 in section play and led the Talbots with 18 runs scored. The 6-foot-2 left-hander was also their top pitcher, going 4-2 overall with an ERA around 2.00 in section action.

The Talbots graduate left-hander Michael Kosko, who combined with Marshalwitz to form a potent 1-2 punch, along with Mattiuz, pitcher Shane Bischke and outfielders Ethan Apaliski, a second-team all-section pick, Ethan Varley and Mason Anthony.

The returning players include Marshalwitz, Bucci, junior center fielder Adam Dembowski, junior catcher Vinnie Matthews, sophomore shortstop Eric Weeks, sophomore outfielder/pitcher Ryan Apaliski and junior infielder Cole Lux.

Marshalwitz said the lopsided playoff loss to West Allegheny will serve as incentive for the Talbots. He will play this summer for a Northern Virginia-based D-Bat Elite National U18 team and plans to attend a showcase event at Gardner-Webb.

Dembowski, who has Division I hopes, plays travel ball for a USA Elite team.

“I know for me personally, I’m going to use this offseason to get a lot stronger, a lot better and get more focused because that (West Allegheny loss) was really a heartbreaker for me,” Marshalwitz said. “I really did not want to go out like that, and I know the other guys are going to use that as motivation for next year.”

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