New league, new team for Ligonier Valley baseball

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Saturday, March 27, 2021 | 7:36 PM


Ligonier Valley’s return to the WPIAL in baseball began on a triumphant note Friday in the program’s first game back in District 7, a 6-4 decision over Greensburg Salem.

The outcome provided hope for the retooled Rams, who were forced to replace their entire starting lineup from the 2019 season that produced a District 6 Heritage Conference championship.

“We are a brand-new team,” Ligonier Valley coach Brett Marabito said.

The Class 3A Rams, who spent 51 years in District 6, where they had been a good bet to repeat as Heritage champions in 2020 before the coronavirus shutdown, last played as a WPIAL member during the 1968-69 season.

“We’re really excited for this season,” Marabito said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”

But with a lineup consisting of players with no varsity experience, Ligonier Valley proved to be a formidable squad against Class 4A No. 4 Greensburg Salem in the first game played in its new territory.

Sophomore Haden Sierocky doubled twice and drove in a pair of runs, and Mason Seftas, one of two seniors on the team, pitched 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for Ligonier Valley, which is idle until a Thursday trip to Class 2A Jeannette.

The Rams, who were 14-4 in 2019, are aligned in the WPIAL Section 3 with Deer Lakes, Derry, Mt. Pleasant, Valley and East Allegheny, whom they will face April 4 and 5 in their section-opening series.

“It’ll be interesting playing all Triple-A opponents in our conference games,” Marabito said, alluding to the Heritage Conference, which consists of teams from various classifications. “I also like the back-to-back scheduling. It’s going to be a real true test.”

The WPIAL this season is requiring schools to play home-and-home series of two games on successive days against section opponents in an effort to consolidate schedules.

Ligonier Valley will host East Allegheny on April 4 before returning a trip a day later to North Versailles to play the Wildcats.

Seftas, who also will catch and play several infield positions, and pitcher/outfielder Jacob Bleehash, the starting pitcher Friday, represent Ligonier Valley’s lone seniors.

“The biggest takeaway was our two seniors,” Marabito said. “If they continue to show the leadership like they showed in that game, that’s going to be a big plus. That’s the first time Bleehash has pitched in a varsity game.”

The 6-foot-1 right-hander blanked Greensburg Salem over the first two innings before Seftas relieved him with two outs during the Golden Lions’ four-run, third-inning uprising.

“Seftas came in and did a great job of keeping them off the board after giving up a hit there in the third that let two runs come in,” Marabito said. “He pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth. Greensburg Salem is a pretty good ballclub. They’re going to do pretty decent this year. They can swing the bat 1 through 9. Luckily, we missed some barrels. Our pitchers did a pretty nice job throwing strikes.”

Marabito said leading up to Friday’s game, there had been much competition for playing time up and down the Rams’ lineup.

“Just like every other team, we missed a valuable year of experience for our now-juniors and seniors to prepare to play at the varsity level,” he said. “But our guys have displayed a great work ethic.

“There’s a lot of unproven guys, even though we have some good athletes, as far as baseball goes.”

Marabito expects to have Sierocky and junior Nick Beitel, among others, join his two seniors on the mound this season. Sierocky also will play in the outfield, and Beitel will catch and play in the infield, as well.

“We have to find that power, shutdown guy,” Marabito said. “If it’s not that one guy, we have to find that collection of guys who can step up on the mound and compete, especially with these back-to-back games now. It’s going to be important to be efficient and keep the pitch count down.”

With Beitel doing much of the catching, Sierocky will mainly be in left field. Junior Grant Dowden will be in center. The trio entered the season with a total of 30 varsity at-bats.

“It’s going to be a lot of guys trying to find their spot,” Marabito said. “We’re going to have to be willing to grow.”

Bleehash will be in right field most of the time, Seftas will share playing time at third and first base, with junior George Golden also seeing some time at first and sophomore Noah Lawson and junior Kaden Faas at third.

Junior Connor Tunstall will hold down the shortstop spot, and sophomore Broderick Schreyer will be at second base.

The Rams’ return to the WPIAL provides an opportunity to play several neighboring schools in section games. Marabito pointed to Derry and Mt. Pleasant, referring to them as “two great, natural rivalries.”

Both teams this season dropped from Class 4A, where Mt. Pleasant reached the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2019.

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