New-look Quaker Valley lineup aims to bring aggressiveness, hard work to diamond

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Sunday, March 26, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Quaker Valley’s baseball team suffered massive graduation losses last year.

Eight of the nine starters in 2022 were seniors, leaving only shortstop Hunter Doherty as the lone returning starter in 2023. Doherty started at second base last season.

“We will be competitive,” said Rich Garbee, QV’s first-year coach. “We will come to play every game. We are in a new section with very well-coached opponents who have seen great recent results. There are successful programs up and down.

“We have new coaches, a young team, and we’ll be growing together. It will be a great opportunity to learn every game for us.”

Doherty, who has enlisted in the Army, is one of five upperclassmen on this year’s team along with Jim Zugai (C/1B), Garrett Rader (OF/P), an Army Reserves enlistee and the only left-handed hitter in the lineup, Charlie Volk (P/OF) and Braeden Steffey (OF), a four-year varsity hockey player at QV and a PIHL all-star.

Doherty ranked second in hitting on last year’s club with a .340 batting average to go along with a .540 slugging percentage, seven doubles and 17 total hits.

Doherty also will see time on the mound this spring. He and Zugai are co-captains.

“Hunter is one of the key leaders on the team along with Jim Zugai,” Garbee, 61, said. “Hunter is an excellent hitter who sprays to all fields. He will be a catalyst in all facets of the game.”

Zugai finished with four home runs, a .609 slugging percentage, 11 runs scored and 12 RBIs last season. He homered and drove in two runs on May 9 to lead the Quakers to a 10-7 section win against Ambridge, which clinched a WPIAL playoff berth.

Garbee recognized the five seniors — Doherty, Zugai, Rader, Volk and Steffey — as potential dominant players in 2023.

The Quakers’ first-year field boss welcomed eight sophomores along with four juniors to the QV baseball program this season.

“We have strong baseball-centric sophomore and junior classes,” Garbee said. “I expect strong contributions out of juniors Gavin Fallgren (C/3B), Mike Ponzo (2B/3B), Jasper Gray (P/OF) and Jack Szuba (OF/1B).”

The sophomore class is represented on the team by Ryan Finamore (OF), Oscar Roig (2B/SS), Nolan Wagoner (1B), Jack Cindrich (3B/2B), Joe Szuba (P/1B), Matt Buhr (3B), Kyle Rader (OF) and Wyatt Hamm (OF).

Two top freshmen are Todd Kagle (UTL) and Brad Semonik (C/OF).

“We expect Todd and Brad to see some playing time as freshmen,” Garbee said.

The Quakers’ early season pitching staff includes Doherty, Garrett Rader, Volk, Gray and Joe Szuba, all-right-handed hurlers.

Garbee’s basic coaching philosophy revolves around enjoying the experience.

“My philosophy is to teach winning habits, show 1% improvement every day, play aggressively, have fun and enjoy the experience,” he said. “I love the makeup of this team. They are aggressive, competitive and hard working. They are young and will grow and continue to improve as the season progresses.

“The foundation for greatness is here. Our new section is extremely strong with three of the top five 3A schools (Mohawk, Riverside, Neshannock) in it, and that does not include Ellwood City, also an outstanding team. Each section game will be a dogfight. I wouldn’t ask for anything different.”

QV’s assistants are Dan Abbenante, Peter Heh, Trenton Heh and Jeff Morris, with Trenton Heh and Morris focusing on the JV squad.

“I really am blessed with a great group of baseball savvy assistant coaches,” Garbee said. “They have been invaluable in teaching and drill creation, as well as working closely with the players to build competitive edges we can use in our games.”

Garbee moved to Sewickley in 2004 and has been involved with QV sports at all levels for the past 15 years, whether coaching, running booster programs, or sitting in the stands.

He was a three-sport athlete — including baseball — at Montclair High School in Montclair, N.J., and played two sports in college at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.

Garbee has been involved in various leadership roles in the business world, and his family includes four Quaker Valley graduates with three that played multiple sports.

Quaker Valley competed in Section 2-4A last season and finished with a 9-10 record. The Quakers, now in Section 1-3A, have advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals the past two years.

QV coach Dean Owrey resigned after last season after serving as field boss for four years, including the pandemic-marred 2020 campaign. He led the Quakers to three WPIAL playoff appearances and posted a 29-29 overall record.

The Quakers have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs eight times in the past nine seasons that have been played. QV was a section titlist from 2013-16.

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