Latrobe baseball coming together as players find roles

Friday, March 26, 2021 | 5:57 PM

A big part of Latrobe coach Matt Basciano’s message every year is playing team baseball.

Doing the little things like hitting behind a runner to move them up a base or hitting a cutoff man to prevent a single from becoming a double are essential for success all the time, but with the uncertainties that surround this season after a canceled 2020 campaign due to the covid-19 pandemic, it’s heightened even more.

Like many teams across the WPIAL, the Wildcats lack experience, but in the early going, Basciano is optimistic with how his group has embraced the concept.

“You have to buy into the team concept,” Basciano said. “Baseball is a complete team sport, and if you’re only worried about your own stats, as a whole, we’re not going to be successful. I always tell the kids that the only stat they should be concerned with is our section win-loss record. That’s the only thing that’s going to get you into the playoffs.

“So far I’ve been very pleased with how our guys have done with that. From the practices to the scrimmage up at Pine-Richland, I see them starting to come together as a unit. It’s early and I’m cautious, but they’re embracing that team mentality.”

Latrobe has two players with limited varsity experience in utility man Tucker Knupp and outfielder Drew Clair. Basciano was concerned where the leadership on the field was going to come from after missing a year, but those worries have been alleviated by Knupp, Clair and Rayce King.

“Our current seniors that lost last year also missed out on seeing good senior leadership, but Tucker and Drew both played basketball and football and were key cogs and great leaders in those sports,” Basciano said. “That’s carried right over to baseball. Rayce King has also stepped up with them, and they’ve solidified that senior leadership role that we desperately needed.”

The lineup is still being worked out, and a lot will depend on how the pitching staff shakes out. King, Knupp, Alex Woodring and Tommy Ciesielski are seniors who will pitch innings, and juniors Jacob Albaugh, Bobby Fetter, Nate Lemmon, Matt Macey and Chase Sickenberger also are listed as pitchers.

Woodring will get the nod to start Latrobe’s first nonsection game Saturday against Upper Arlington (Ohio), which is coached by former Latrobe player Nate Campbell.

Latrobe has four nonsection games before it gets into the WPIAL’s new back-to-back section games format against McKeesport April 6-7.

“I think a lot of this is going to depend on our pitching,” Basciano said. “Every year it’s a premium, but it’s even more so this year with pitch counts and back-to-back section games. It’s going to be important to have a number of arms and to be strategic with maneuvers when we make pitching changes in games.

“All of these guys could be starters or they could be coming out of the bullpen. Not seeing them last year, we have to see them in the roles. We need to get these nonsection games in to see how this all works out.”

Latrobe is housed in Section 1-5A with Franklin Regional, Gateway, Kiski Area, McKeesport and Penn-Trafford.

“I think overall 5A has some fantastic baseball programs,” Basciano said. “In the section we’re in, Penn-Trafford dropped with us (from Class 6A). They’re a great program. It seems like every two years we leave or are reunited with Franklin Regional. Bobby Sadler does a phenomenal job with them.

“Those two are perennial powerhouses and Gateway and Kiski have been improving the last few years. McKeesport has great athletes and will have a strong team. I don’t think we received any help dropping down or in this section.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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