Hampton soccer standout thrives in return to diamond

Saturday, April 30, 2022 | 10:01 AM

When Luke Staggers picked up a baseball bat for the first time in five years, what happened was just about what anyone would expect.

Not much of anything.

“I don’t think I touched a ball at all in the first workout,” the Hampton senior said. “I was worried after my first couple of swings because I wasn’t sure if it ever was going to come back.”

But he finally is back in the swing of things.

Staggers, an all-section forward for Hampton’s WPIAL and PIAA champion boys soccer team, has returned to baseball for the first time since seventh grade and is making an immediate impact.

Through eight games as of April 24, the left fielder was batting .591 with 11 stolen bases for the Talbots (6-0 in Section 2-5A, 6-3 overall), who were off to their best start in section play since 2014.

“I was not expecting what I’ve seen so far,” coach Kellen Wheeler said. “He has worked as hard as he possibly can. For him to come in and do what he’s done is completely amazing.”

Said Staggers, “It’s going a lot better than I thought it was going to.”

Staggers started the sport at age 3 — “I really loved playing baseball,” he said — but he quit in seventh grade to focus on his other athletic passion, soccer.

It proved to be a winning choice. He helped lead Hampton to a 23-1 record this past fall. The Talbots defeated West Allegheny, 1-0, for the program’s first WPIAL title since 2011, and Staggers assisted on the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Archbishop Wood on Nov. 20 at Hersheypark Stadium for the PIAA Class 3A crown.

“It was a dream come true,” said Staggers, who is leaning toward Delaware and may walk onto the men’s soccer team.

But as the months passed — Staggers didn’t play a winter sport — he realized how much he missed the competitiveness and benefits of team sports. So when his good friend Cam Marshalwitz, the Talbots’ ace left-hander, suggested Staggers return to baseball while on vacation in Hilton Head, S.C., over the summer, Staggers agreed.

“He’s tried (to get me to play) before,” Staggers said. “But this time it actually made a lot of sense because I’m not playing Cup soccer anymore, so I have the time.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed the feeling of being on the field and playing a high school sport. That definitely had an effect on my decision.”

Wheeler was glad to see Staggers return. With his speed and athleticism, Staggers immediately earned a starting job in left field, where he has played error-free ball. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound right-handed hitter also has become more comfortable at the plate, batting from the No. 9 position.

“I think he could be the best No. 9 hitter that I could ever imagine,” Wheeler said. “And he’s done a fantastic job in the field.”

The highlight of the season so far came in a 17-3 victory at Woodland Hills on March 30, when Staggers went 2 for 3 with his first home run since middle school.

“It was just pure disbelief,” he said. “I didn’t know it was going over the fence, so I was sprinting as hard as I could. I looked up and I saw the left fielder stop running and I was like, ‘No way that went over the fence.’ I didn’t believe it until I got back into the dugout.”

Wheeler said Staggers’ hustle out of the box was the most impressive part of the home run.

“He was standing on second base by the time the ball landed,” Wheeler said. “He looked out to the umpire, and the umpire was giving him the home run sign. The smile on his face was just priceless.”

Despite being a first-year varsity baseball player, Staggers is trying to impart to his teammates the experience of playing on a PIAA championship team and what that involves. He also has provided motivation for the Talbots with his success despite being away from the diamond for five years.

“Every time he gets a hit, every time he makes a nice play in the field, basically everybody on the team is saying, ‘That’s unbelievable,’ ” Wheeler said. “He hasn’t played in this long, and he’s going out there and just doing it.”


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