‘Instant offense’ sparks Franklin Regional baseball to 6-1 start

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 | 9:18 PM

There’s a new after-school work program for Franklin Regional high school students. Once the final bell rings and classes let out, 15 students head to the ball field and start swinging bats at the aluminum factory.

It’s a dirty job, but it does have rewards.

“This is probably one of the best hitting teams that we’ve had,” Franklin Regional coach Bob Saddler said. “It’s just instant offense.”

The early-season success at the plate puts the Panthers among the hottest-hitting teams in the WPIAL.

“We have worked hard on the offseason, and they have made great strides in their swings,” Saddler said. “It’s paying off right now.”

No coach knows exactly what kind of team they might have during the preseason, but by the time Saddler and his Panthers arrived back from their annual spring trip to Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., he had a feeling his Panthers were going to be special at the plate.

“Down in Florida, we were able to put up big numbers, and we were spraying the ball to all fields,” Saddler said. “One game, we drove three balls down the right-field line and ended up with three triples. I said to myself that this team isn’t just a power team that can hit to the pull side.

“They are able to put the ball in the right-center gap and down the line. That’s when you know your team is seeing the ball well and trusting their swing.”

Franklin Regional (6-1, 3-0) arrived back from the Sunshine State having outscored opponents 24-12 en route to a 3-0 start.

“I started realizing this, first during the winter workouts and when we got to Florida and put up over 10 runs in six different games (and scrimmages),” said senior center fielder Tommy Kegerreis, who missed last season with a torn labrum. “It’s been a good year so far.”

Kegerreis, a Mesa Community College (Ariz.) commit leads the Panthers with a .727 batting average. He notched three doubles and added an RBI in the Panthers’ 7-6 come-from-behind extra-innings win over Section 1-5A rival Fox Chapel last week.

“He’s seeing the baseball as well as I’ve seen in high school right now,” Saddler said. “His two-strike approach is awesome right now.

“He has a such a quick swing. He’s able to shorten up with two strikes and be able to still drive the baseball and put it over the fence, which is great.”

The Panthers are stout throughout the order. Michael Klingensmith (.500), Bryce Harper (.444), Tom Nicely (.400) and Jacob Williams (.357) are an assembly line of hitters. Franklin Regional has plated 31 runners since arriving north of the Mason-Dixon line to open the WPIAL play.

“Even in our game verse Fox Chapel last Friday, we were down 4-0, and we had the confidence to battle back,” said Kegerreis, who bats third in the lineup. “We always have the confidence knowing that we have the ability to battle back and push ahead in those games.”

It’s not only the confidence Franklin Regional takes to the plate that helps, it’s the fact that each and every hitter steps into the batter’s box knowing how to handle each situation. The Panthers aren’t just swinging for the fences each time up to bat; there’s deep thought going on at the plate.

“We have a bunch of guys that are cerebral, and they know the plan when they get up to the plate and have done a great job so far this year,” Saddler said. “They work counts. They’re aggressive whenever the ball is pitched in their zone, and they take advantage of counts. We’re fortunate.”

With strong starting pitching from Palmer Jackson and his 1.10 ERA and 3-0 record, the Panthers are as complete a team as any this time of year.

“I don’t think there’s an easy out in the lineup if our hitters go out and perform like they’re capable of,” Saddler said. “They’re able to do damage, which is great.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.


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