Latrobe baseball gets refocused for season’s stretch run

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Thursday, May 4, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Won at a time.

Like four bases form a diamond, those four words form the motto of the Latrobe baseball team, which has thrust itself into a another postseason conversation after winning back-to-back section titles.

The playoff seeds and matchups will come out in a week, and Latrobe will try to carve out a path to another title.

But slow down for a moment.

Every season isn’t all about championship belts and Barbie cars — traditional program trinkets for players of the game or top performers. There is pause for reflection when it is needed, and the Wildcats (10-6, 7-1) needed it after a pair of nonsection losses that tripped them up.

A double-elimination tournament was over in one day for the Wildcats.

“I know the scores don’t show it, but they were close games,” veteran coach Matt Basciano said of 19-15 and 11-2 defeats against Altoona and Punxsutawney at the annual Altoona Curve Classic. “We knew going in our pitching was going to be thin from two section games earlier that week.

“Those are two good teams, and with Altoona, we battled and lost a five-run lead in the sixth. Punxy, I think, was undefeated and we were winning that game until we gave up nine in the fifth. Not positive on both of those innings. It was a long hot day, and I think pitching and the gap between games got to us.”

The short-lived road trip was more about reps for Latrobe, but players still wanted a better performance and result.

They stopped short of calling it a turning point or key to the season.

“It wasn’t really a wake-up call for us because we were winning the first game until the last two innings when we couldn’t buy a strike,” junior outfielder Jake Cramer said. “But the second game was just bad, and we all knew that we were better than what happened on the field. It was also our fourth game in three days, so we weren’t too upset and we made sure to take it as a learning experience.”

The losses were tough, but maybe what fired up the Wildcats was a game before the Classic.

Three of their setbacks came against teams outside of the WPIAL. Their first section loss was concerning.

“I really think the bigger one is the (3-2) Ringgold loss,” Basciano said. “The kids took that one hard because we stress the little things and winning the freebie war. We lost that on that day, and they saw how important that is. We outhit them but lost too many freebies, and it cost us. I really think that was a bigger refocuser for us. I also think the tough exhibition schedule we play and the tight games early on are paying off now for them.”

Latrobe bounced back with a 6-0 win over Ringgold to split the Section 2-4A series and had not lost a section game since as it prepared for a final two-game series against Belle Vernon.

The Wildcats were 7-1 in section in what is their first year in Class 4A since 2016 — the year before they won WPIAL and PIAA championships in 5A. They entered the TribLive HSSN rankings this week, checking in at No. 5 in 4A.

Basciano said, to no one’s surprise, that the Wildcats are better when they limit errors and walks. Coaches make fundamentals sound so important — because they are.

The Wildcats have done those things in section games, and it has shown in the results. They have been sharp at home too, where they’re 6-0.

“This group hates to lose,” Basciano said. “We do a lot of competitions in practice and they really get after it, sometimes too much. They truly take the team concept and ‘whatever it takes’ to heart and go after every pitch, every inning, every game with everything they have.”

One might be hard-pressed to find a closer group than Latrobe. Their social media posts after wins look like family portraits.

“All of us on the team are like brothers, and we try to hang out with each other as much as possible,” Cramer said. “I think that when you go through pain and suffering, along with the joys of life, with each other by your side, it just strengthens our bonds even more.

“I remember last year in the playoffs, we lost in the first round and everyone was destroyed because of how much the team meant to them. When you are as close as we are, it’s easy to do things for the betterment of the team and not for yourself.”

Basciano has been the rock of the program for two decades. This is his 20th year— 19 if you take away the 2020 season that was never played because of covid-19. The coach has guided the Wildcats to 12 playoff appearances, the WPIAL and state titles, and has double-digit wins in 12 seasons.

Humble and modest, his 200th win came and went like a night wind, with no fanfare or cookie cake. It was last April 26, a 17-3 victory at Kiski Area.

Basciano is quietly 213-165.

“Coach Bas is obviously a huge part of the program,” Cramer said. “He’s who picks us up when we’re down and who humbles us when we need humbled. He is a huge part of the success that we have had this season and in the past few years.

“Honestly, practice has never felt like an inconvenience, and it’s because of the brotherhood that was instilled in us early by Coach Bas.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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