Leechburg baseball team’s expectations remain high with new coach

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Saturday, March 27, 2021 | 8:32 PM


Bill Stoops knows what it’s like to help lead a high school baseball team to the WPIAL playoffs and pick up postseason victories.

He did it with Deer Lakes as the coach from 1999-2007, as an assistant at North Allegheny from 2008-15 and with Gateway from 2016-18.

After a short stint as an assistant at Valley, Stoops is ready to guide Leechburg into a new season with expectations for another trip to the postseason.

“The kids are coming along well,” said Stoops, who was hired last month to take over for Bob Oberdorf after the veteran Blue Devils coach retired for personal reasons late last year.

“They are picking a lot of things up. We’ve been putting a number of new things in over the past couple of weeks. We’ve been doing a lot of evaluation to see where guys can play and what we still need to work on. It’s a work-in-progress, but the guys are willing to learn and get better.”

Several players have made the transition to the diamond from the hardwood after the basketball team ended its run March 9 in the WPIAL Class 1A semifinals.

Covid quarantine issues over the first couple of weeks of preseason practices slowed progress somewhat, Stoops said. But the team was back at full strength for a pair of scrimmages — Thursday against Northgate and Friday against West Shamokin — in the final stages of preparation before the season-opening nonsection series against Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Those scrimmages were good to get our feet wet,” senior third baseman Cam Curfman said.

“We have to just communicate better and get the fundamentals down. Those (scrimmages) were good learning experiences. We went over some more things in practice Saturday, and we are feeling pretty good about things for Tuesday and Wednesday’s games.”

Last year’s Blue Devils team had designs on a third straight WPIAL playoffs trip before the PIAA suspended the spring season for two weeks before ultimately canceling it. The Blue Devils were 5-5 in section play and 7-10 overall in 2019.

“Last year was tough because we had some talent with a good batch of seniors. We thought we were going to do really good,” said Curfman, a co-captain this year with fellow senior Dalton Hamm (catcher), sophomore Owen McDermott (shortstop) and junior Thomas Burke (center field).

“We were just expecting it to be two weeks. We never expected it to be the full season. It was hard for us to adjust. But we’re coming back into it this year with a nice mix of older and younger kids who I think will come together well for a good season. There is a lot of versatility among the players to play multiple positions.”

Curfman led the team in hitting in 2019 with a .347 average with three doubles and eight RBIs. Hamm, who is transitioning to catcher, is the only other player who saw significant action two years ago.

Junior DeVaughn Knight played in six games and made five pitching appearances totaling 523 innings.

“Coach Stoops wants us to be more aggressive, steal bases, bunt runners over and be crafty in how we score runs in addition to having some power,” Curfman said. “I really like that style of play.”

Curfman also is expected to form the core of a pitching staff with McDermott, Knight and sophomores Braiden Turiak and Matt Curfman.

Turiak also will be at second base, and Matt Curfman could get additional opportunities in the infield or outfield.

Knight also is expected to find a home in right field, and junior Eli Rich and freshman Kaleb Kapalka will compete for time in the lineup.

All section games will be home-and-home matchups on consecutive days.

“With the new section play, I think we have a good pitching staff to go in there and compete both days,” Curfman said.

Leechburg will face section foes Sewickley Academy, Eden Christian, St. Joseph, Springdale and Riverview.

Vincentian, the 2019 section champion, no longer exists as the school shut down after the 2019-20 academic year. Greensburg Central Catholic, the section runner-up in 2019, has moved to a different section. Leechburg and St. Joseph finished tied for third in the section standings.

Riverview again is under the direction of Bill Gras, Stoops’ brother-in-law.

“I think we will find out a lot more about the teams when we play them,” Stoops said. “Everything is all new.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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