Ligonier Valley baseball has holes to fill in lineup if it wants to chase Heritage title

Saturday, March 14, 2020 | 6:28 PM

In its final tuneup before joining the WPIAL next season, the Ligonier Valley baseball team will attempt to exit District 6 this spring with a second consecutive Heritage Conference championship and fifth overall.

Coach Brett Marabito remembers well the first time the Rams earned the conference title.

“It was my freshman year in 2007,” said Marabito, who enters his second season as coach at his alma mater.

There’s hope for one more run at a Heritage title and perhaps even a District 6 crown. Ligonier Valley returns four starters from a 14-4 team that squeezed out its first Heritage championship since 2012 on a tiebreaker.

The Rams and West Shamokin finished knotted atop the standings at 11-1, but Ligonier Valley got the title by way of its 4-2 victory over the Wolves in their only regular-season meeting.

“Our league is no slouch,” Marabito said. “Homer-Center has had a great program for a long time. They’re the top dog in the conference because of their tradition and history. We want to shoot for them, even though we won the conference last year. They’re a watermark program that we strive to be.”

Marabito also singled out United, Marion Center and West Shamokin as other contenders.

Meanwhile, Saltsburg was the only team to beat Ligonier Valley last season in conference play.

The Rams’ season was blunted a game into the District 6 playoffs, where they dropped a 9-2 decision to Mt. Union, the eventual PIAA Class 3A champion after the Trojans won six more games in succession, including a 4-0 victory over WPIAL runner-up Hopewell in the PIAA quarterfinals.

“Being exposed to that was huge for our guys,” Marabito said. “They see what that level looks like. They see how you have to compete with a team like that.”

Marabito paused briefly, then added: “Frankly, it opened my eyes, too.”

Hard-throwing, right-hander Michael Marinchak and infielder Ben Anderson are among the returning regulars. Marinchak, who had a rocky start against Mt. Union, nonetheless, compiled a 3-2 record with a 1.89 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 33 innings.

Anderson’s 18 RBIs ranked second on the team to infielder Sam Sheeder’s 19. But Sheeder, like Anderson a senior, opted not to play this season after leaving the team last week.

Ethan Boring, who was 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA but gave up five runs in relief against Mt. Union, also returns, as does closer John Beard, who compiled a 1.16 ERA in 12 innings.

“He had two saves last year, and both were big opportunities in big situations,” Marabito said of Beard.

With the departure of five starters, including Sheeder and shortstop Solomon Schueltz, a freshman at Division III Allegheny, Ligonier Valley’s roster is dominated by underclassmen. A total of 19 sophomores (11) and freshmen (eight) are among the 26-player roster.

Outfielders Andrew Kuzemchak and John Caldwell graduated, and catcher Michael Petrof also opted not to play, instead turning his attention to football.

Petrof, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive tackle, is committed to Navy and also was selected to play in the annual Big 33 Football Classic on May 25 in Harrisburg. The game features outgoing high school senior all-star teams from Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Ligonier Valley, which was scheduled to open its baseball season Friday at home against Purchase Line, stole a school-record 112 bases in 18 games last season, an average of six per game.

“Our running game is the one thing we stress and work on every single day,” Marabito said. “We do that to generate some runs when the bats aren’t working. I believe our hitting is aided by the fact that we’re so aggressive on the bases.”

In addition, Marabito is counting on a host of role players from last season to plug holes in the lineup, notably infielders Mason Seftas and Connor Tunstall, catcher Nick Beitel and utilityman Grant Dowden.


More Baseball

High school roundup for April 13, 2024: Mt. Lebanon baseball rallies past Central Catholic
WPIAL baseball rankings: Week ending April 14, 2024
Franklin Regional notebook: Kegerreis brothers find college baseball landing spots
Ex-MLB pitcher David Phelps helps launch Aquinas Academy baseball team
What to watch for in WPIAL sports on April 13, 2024: With rain subsiding, play ball