High hopes for Hampton baseball after up-and-down playoff season

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Saturday, March 26, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton baseball team was taking indoor batting practice earlier this month when players were asked to close the gymnasium doors to accommodate a meeting in the adjacent cafeteria.

The Talbots are looking to make more noise this spring.

Hampton return seven starters from an up-and-down WPIAL Class 5A playoff qualifier, led by a pair of first-team all-Section 2 picks, senior pitcher Cam Marshalwitz and junior second baseman Anthony Bucci.

“These kids are fully committed,” fourth-year coach Kellen Wheeler said. “They came into the gym the first day ready to go. They are ready to move on with the season.”

Not much went right for the Talbots last season. They reached the WPIAL playoffs for the 13th time in the past 15 seasons, but they were sent home following a 14-1 five-inning first-round WPIAL playoff loss to West Allegheny. The Talbots finished 7-12, the program’s worst winning percentage in 21 years and the fewest wins since 2003.

“I definitely think it was tough, especially for the seniors,” Bucci said. “It was a tough way to go out. We really didn’t compete. This year we definitely want to be able to get to the playoffs and compete, and I think we can.”

The Talbots also return senior center fielder Adam Dembowski, who this summer played for a Baltimore-based US Elite travel team; senior catcher Vinnie Matthews, junior shortstop Eric Weeks, junior pitcher/outfielder Ryan Apaliski and senior third baseman Cole Lux.

“It looks pretty good,” Matthews said after March 11 practice. “I think if we can stay consistent and keep the energy up, we will be good. We will definitely be a contender for the section. If we keep up what we are doing (in the gym), we will definitely have a great season.”

Marshalwitz, a 6-foot-2 left-hander, will anchor the pitching staff. He went 4-2 overall last season with an ERA of roughly 2.00 in section play. He also was one of the Talbots’ top hitters, batting over .450 in section play with a team-high 18 runs scored.

The other top pitcher is expected to be Apaliski, a left-hander who will replace graduated Michael Kosko in the two-man section rotation.

“His velocity has increased a good bit from last year,” Wheeler said of Apaliski. “His mental state looks like it’s good right now. Practicing inside is tough to see what we have. We have to get in those game situations. But I’m very excited to see what he can do this year. He had a very good summer, and I hope that ends up coming into our season.”

Bucci also had a strong summer, working to build on a breakthrough sophomore season. Bucci was a junior varsity infielder when last season began, but he earned a starting varsity job and ended up hitting .400 in section play with a team-high 14 RBIs. He also played error-free defense on the way to all-section honors.

“I definitely have a lot more confidence this year,” Bucci said. “I got a lot of experience last year, and I’m definitely thankful for that and I’m going to build off it.”

First base remained a platoon during the opening week of practice, with Marshalwitz, junior Braxton Eastly and sophomore Parker Brockway set to share time.

The outfield will include Dembowski, junior Zach Carr and senior Luke Staggers, who rejoined the program for the first time since middle school but is showing early promise. Staggers was an all-section forward this past fall for Hampton’s 23-1 PIAA Class 3A champion boys soccer team.

“He decided he was going to come back for his senior year, and it’s looking like he can give us potentially a lot of innings in the outfield this year,” Wheeler said. “He hasn’t done any baseball in five years, and he’s stepping right in and looking really good so far. I have seen a lot of potential.”

Promising freshman catcher Justin Dubee is also a candidate for playing time.

Wheeler believes the pitching staff could take a step forward from last season. Other pitchers include seniors Brayden Hussar and Charlie Schuit and Staggers, and Carr.

“I have a lot of arms,” Wheeler said. “We have the depth. We definitely have more depth (than last year) that I’m comfortable throwing out there.”

The Talbots, who open March 28 against visiting Woodland Hills, must also contend with section foes Armstrong, Fox Chapel, Mars, Penn Hills and Plum in their final season in Class 5A before dropping to 4A as part of the enrollment-based realignment.

“I think we have a very, very good chance of winning the section and I really think we can get to the playoffs,” Wheeler said. “I want to get outside, so we can see what we have.”

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