New philosophy has Penn-Trafford baseball excelling at plate

Friday, April 19, 2019 | 8:48 PM

In the lead up to the 2019 season, Penn-Trafford baseball coach Dan Miller was preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

Miller didn’t expect his Warriors to be a particularly powerful team at the plate. He was OK playing some “small ball” to manufacture runs and hoped to add some smart base running and be in the mix for a playoff spot come May. Then the season started.

“The makeup of this team that is going to determine what our fate is going to be hitting,” said Miller, in his fifth season. “We are very comfortable with our pitching staff. A lot of that is a testimony to the maturity of the kids that we have back.”

The Class 6A No. 4-ranked Warriors have far exceeded expectations at the midway point of the season. With 11 seniors on the roster, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise Penn-Trafford (11-1, 4-1) is atop Section 2-6A. It’s how the Warriors are doing it that has Miller and his staff cautiously optimistic yet confident.

“I didn’t know coming into the season that we would have been known as a hitting team,” Miller said. “We’re not a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. We’re trying to be consistent.”

Miller has been waiting all season long to implement the “small ball” plan but hasn’t needed to. The Warriors have outscored opponents 86-35.

“Ironically, we’re committed to (small ball), and we’re sticking with the plan but we’re swinging the bats really well.” Miller said.

One of the reasons Miller has yet to implement his plan is the addition of hitting coach Dana Williams. Williams comes with a resume befitting an MLB coach and not a high school assistant.

Williams grew up with Miller in Penn Hills. They played youth baseball together. Williams moved and graduated high school in Alabama. He played for the Crimson Tide and signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1983. Williams started eight games in 1989. From there, he became a hitting coach in the Seattle Mariners’ minor league system and managed two seasons of rookie ball. Williams is an encyclopedia of baseball knowledge.

“The reason why he brought me here was to work on the base running and the hitting part,” Williams said. “They didn’t hit the ball last year. I came in with a simple approach, mentally, and it’s complicated enough to hit. I just made it simple.”

Williams immediately changed how batters approach every at-bat. Gone are the days of pulling the ball. Williams preached patience.

“We got guys that are putting the bat on the ball, which is what it is all about,” Williams said. “We had a lot of guys that wanted to pull the ball. I wanted them to know that the goal is to put the ball in between the two lines. I tried to get the guys to gap the gap. My philosophy is to look fastball until you get two strikes.”

And that philosophy has worked. Williams mentioned senior Mario Disso as a player who has blossomed under the new mindset.

“Disso has figured it out,” Williams said. “It clicked with him really quick. (Luke) Fabac has figured it out, too.”

Disso leads the Warriors with a .389 batting average, including four doubles. Fabac is batting .250 with a triple and two doubles to his credit.

Miller said newly installed senior lead-off hitter Cade Patterson (.333), along with fellow seniors Jordan Sabol (.286) and Tyler Horvat (.324), has sparked the offense.

The power has been supplied by Bobby Lane (.233), Anthony Sherwin (.286), Tyler Chrise (.250) and Connor Bannias (.350).

“I told this team at the beginning of the year that this is a team with high expectations, so let’s not run from it, let’s embrace it,” Miller said.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.


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