New coach, new goals for playoff-minded Kiski Area baseball

Thursday, March 14, 2019 | 7:09 PM

Kiski Area’s baseball players got a bit of a history lesson in one of their winter workouts with first-year coach Aaron Albert. A former Knoch baseball player, Albert pointed out a banner for the Cavaliers’ 2002 section title, which they won after beating Albert’s team by one game in the standings.

The new coach wants to see Kiski Area competing for another etching on the banner as early as this season, even after a difficult experience the past two years.

“I’ve been here three years with football,” said Albert, an assistant on his father Sam’s coaching staff, “and I think when we took over the football program, we had to instill our values and kind of resurrect that program. (Former baseball coach Kyle) Morrow left me with a lot of talent and a good base. I know their record doesn’t reflect that, but I’m excited.”

Kiski Area compiled a 6-30 record the past two seasons under Morrow, including 4-13 and 4-8 in Section 1-5A play last year. But Albert, who coached the past two seasons at Beaver, isn’t shying away from setting a high bar for the Cavaliers.

“I’m not one of those (people who say), ‘Hey, we want to be first year, building the program,’ ” Albert said. “We talk every day that our goal is to make the playoffs. I think that if you don’t talk about that every day, then they don’t believe that that’s really the goal. We’re here to make the playoffs in Year 1, and I definitely think we can do that.”

Albert points to Kiski Area’s football team as an example for his baseball players — many of whom play both sports. The football Cavaliers used an underdog mentality to reach the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs last season, and the baseball team is thinking the same way.

“It’s always been underdogs, since I’ve been in high school, for every sport,” said senior Ryne Wallace, the quarterback on the football team and the top-of-the-rotation starter for the baseball team. “Basketball, sophomore year, we made it (to the playoffs) when we weren’t supposed to. Football, this year, we made it when we weren’t supposed to. It just depends on the year. It’s not about last year.”

Kiski Area’s strength begins on the mound with the 6-foot-5 Wallace, a left-hander who led the team in innings pitched (24 1/3) and strikeouts (22) last season. Fellow senior Nick Smith and juniors Billy Perroz, who had a team-low 1.74 ERA, and Ryan Rametta also will be leaned on to pitch starter-level innings.

Beyond those four, Albert said he has extensive depth to pitch in relief. Most of the Cavaliers’ field players can step onto the mound if needed.

The versatility extends to the field. Sophomore Derek Hald will fill most of the innings at catcher, but multiple players will fill various infield and outfield spots.

Albert uses Chris Taylor of the Los Angeles Dodgers as an example of flexibility: Taylor played several different positions during the season, including the World Series.

“You can’t as a high school player tell me you’re just a shortstop, you’re just a third baseman,” Albert said. “A college coach wants versatility, and luckily all these guys have bought in. It’s kind of old-school baseball. They’ll go wherever. They’ll play wherever.”

Perroz, Smith and Wallace can play first base. Seniors Ethan Guercio and Dalton Ross and junior Matt Skelly are competing at second. Junior Garrett Polka and Rammetta can slot in at shortstop, and junior Zach Morrill and Rametta will see time at third.

Outfielders include Perroz, Wallace, Guercio, Skelly and juniors Jared Curcio and Ross Ziemianski.

In addition to Albert assuming the coaching position, Kiski Area made a change to its home field, flattening the outfield and moving in the fences. The latter move might help the Cavaliers offense, which produced 79 runs last season.

So will experience. Although the team has just four seniors, most of the Cavaliers have at least one varsity year under their belts.

“It helps us a lot because varsity and JV is very different, pitching-wise,” said Perroz, who hit .349 with one of the team’s two home runs last season. “You’re going to see a lot better pitching at varsity, so you have to be prepared. It’s hard to know what’s coming.”

A reshuffled Section 1-5A this season will see holdovers Armstrong, Fox Chapel and Kiski Area competing with newcomers Franklin Regional, Gateway, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.

“I loved my time (at Beaver),” Albert said. “I have a connection to these kids, and not to say I didn’t at Beaver, but I don’t know if it’s because I grew up close to here, I kind of instantly felt this was home even though I graduated from Knoch. … It felt like the right time and right place.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .


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