Latrobe baseball looking for complete commitment in move to Class 6A

Thursday, March 14, 2019 | 7:57 PM

The Latrobe baseball team is just two years removed from claiming WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A championships in a season that will go down as one of the greatest in school history.

But, the Wildcats were then decimated by graduation, losing 10 seniors, and the 2018 season quickly became a necessary rebuilding year for coach Matt Basciano and his team. They finished 11-10 and returned to the WPIAL playoffs but lost to Chartiers Valley in the first round, 12-2.

Although it was a rebuilding year, the Wildcats gained an invaluable amount of experience that will surely contribute to an improvement in 2019 as they make the jump back into Class 6A. In order to see that improvement, Basciano believes the Wildcats have to be committed in multiple ways.

“We have to, day in and day out, work to improve in any area we can,” Basciano said. “We can’t take a day off, and we can’t look past any teams. This is 6A, and they are all good teams. It’s a great section, and it’s a very competitive section. It’s good year in and year out. We’re going to have to be mentally ready, and I think that’s what will be big for us this year, the mentality aspect of it.”

Infielder Isaac Echard was a key piece of that 2017 state championship run and is one of the lone players still remaining after the graduation of Griffin Clark, Preston Boerio and Adam Wolford last season.

Outside of Echard, Basciano returns a few starters from last year, including middle infielder Matt Henderson, outfielder and second-team all-section selection Connor Mondock and pitcher Jake Bradish. But while they only return a few starters, the Wildcats were able to gain valuable experience last year.

Four of their 10 losses were by three runs or less, and toward the end of the year, they ripped off a three-game winning streak that saw them take out Ligonier Valley, Pine-Richland and Uniontown in order to earn a spot in the Class 5A playoffs.

“That showed nothing is really given to you,” Echard said. “We were kind of a last entry ticket into the playoffs, but we pushed and we made it into there. Even in the playoffs, anything can happen. It’s one and done, so you have to show up that day and give it your all.

“I think last year we had a few distractions leading into that. So, I think it was a good learning experience for this season.”

Returning starting pitcher Jake Bradish will enter the year as one of several hurlers the 15th-year head coach will utilize. Last year, as a sophomore, Bradish was an all-section honorable mention, and although he’ll enter the season as the No. 1 guy, Basciano said he plans to use more of a platoon-type system.

“He’s definitely going to be, but I don’t think this year we are going to have a single No. 1,” Basciano said. “(Jake) is definitely the most experienced, he had a great year last year.”

Basciano has 11 pitchers listed on his roster, and he’ll likely use a few different guys throughout the season. One of those arms is sophomore Tucker Knupp. He pitched last year as a freshman, so he has some experience on the varsity level. Either way, Echard is excited to see how they both will do this year.

“They are going to be strong pitchers for us this year, and pitching is key obviously because as long as you can keep the other team off the board it takes the pressure off the offense,” Echard said. “Tucker is young, he definitely has some power to him, and Jake knows what he’s doing on the mound; he controls the game well but also keeps it fast for the fielders.”

The Wildcats are ready to return to form after finishing just over .500 last season. They have the experience, and Basciano said they had a great offseason and the players showed outstanding effort throughout. Now, they just have to translate that to the field.

“Experience will definitely be our strong suit,” Basciano said. “Now, can we stay focused, not be worried about numbers and bring those young guys around? That’s going to be the question because we definitely have some roles to fill.”


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