Key injury, close losses stop Gateway baseball short of playoff goal

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Sunday, May 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Heading into the season, the Gateway baseball team hoped to build off its first-round loss to Bethel Park, the eventual PIAA champions, last year.

However, the Gators had to try to find a way back to the playoffs without one of their top seniors. Gateway played the majority of the season without center fielder Nate Demchak.

Gateway finished the season 7-13 overall, 3-9 in Section 1-5A. The Gators won a pair of section games against Penn Hills late in the season by a combined score of 16-11.

The Gators started the season off well with a 4-1 record, including a 3-1 win against Franklin Regional in their section opener April 3. Demchak knocked in three runs on a bases-clearing triple.

But Gateway went on to lose nine straight games. The Gators lost a couple of close games during the stretch, including an 8-5 setback to Armstrong on April 17 and a 4-1 loss to Plum on April 24. Gateway split the final six games of the season.

“We were leading in two of them in the fifth inning and we let them slip away. We finished the season strong with two wins against Penn Hills. The guys came together at the end to get a few more section wins,” coach Mark Wardzinski said. “We preached about just battling as a team. We wanted to put the ball in play and make things happen. We wanted to build together and stay together as a family.”

Demchak, who had a .350 batting average during his junior season, only played in the first nine games of the season.

“It was a huge loss. Last year, he was one of our better hitters. He was our center fielder last year and with him not there, we had to move some guys around in order to replace him, which was difficult,” Wardzinski said.

Junior Taili Thompson led the Gators with a .385 batting average, 25 hits and nine doubles. Thompson was second on the team with 15 runs scored and tied for third with 13 RBIs.

Thompson, who finished the season with an eight-game hit streak, drove in four runs and hit a double in the 15-0 win over Woodland Hills on April 28.

Senior second baseman Brandon Bell finished with a .348 batting average, three home runs, seven doubles, 12 RBIs and 20 runs scored. Bell had two three-hit games this season – against Kiski Area and Woodland Hills.

Senior third baseman Brody Clemens finished third on the team with a .321 batting average. Clemens had three hits, including two doubles, in the 10-7 win over Penn Hills on May 9.

On the mound, the Gators were led by senior Nolan Boehm, who finished the season with a 3.15 ERA in 40 innings of work, striking out 57 batters and walking 21.

Boehm struck out 10 batters three times — in wins against Hampton and Franklin Regional and in a loss to Armstrong.

At the plate, Boehm finished with a .310 batting average, two home runs, five doubles, three triples, 14 RBIs and 14 runs scored.

“He was our ace. He pitched very well all season. He kept us in a lot of games,” Wardzinski said. “We are graduating six seniors with four of them being starters. The seniors are going to be missed big time. We are going to have to find a way to replace them.”

Wardzinski will look to lean on a trio of juniors — Thompson, Noah Colberg and Ahmad Harris — to take over for the departing senior class.

“We have a number of juniors that saw a number of innings this past year. We are hoping they can build on this last year,” Wardzinski said.

In addition, the Gators will look for continued progression in catcher Grady Dunsmore, who played in 16 games as a freshman.

“He got some valuable reps as a freshman,” Wardzinski said. “He now knows the speed of the game. Hopefully he can put it all together next season.”

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