Return to playoffs boosts Southmoreland baseball program

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Tuesday, May 31, 2022 | 11:37 AM


It had been 14 years since the Southmoreland baseball team earned a spot in the WPIAL playoffs.

Though the Scotties’ long-awaited return this season was short-lived, they were hoping the desire to remain relevant would live on.

“That’s 100% what we’re hoping,” senior catcher Brok Potoka said.

With 12 of the team’s 17 players set to return next year, Southmoreland coach Al Govern was looking to move past a 10-0, five-inning loss to Avonworth in a first-round Class 3A playoff game May 17 at Highlands that saw the Scotties struggle at the plate.

With Potoka and four other seniors playing in their last game, Avonworth’s Mason Horwat and Colin Crawford combined to no-hit Southmoreland.

“It wasn’t one of our better showings,” Potoka said.

“But we still managed to meet our main goal. ‘Coach Al’ was saying, back when we were freshmen, that he hoped we’d be the group to take Southmoreland back to the playoffs and make us relevant.”

Southmoreland closed the year with an 8-8 record — aided by a forfeit victory May 11 over Derry — for its first nonlosing season since a 10-10 mark in 2008, coincidentally the most recent year the Scotties reached the playoffs.

“It’s not like we won a state championship,” Govern said.

“But being in the mix like we were this year, you’ll hopefully get more kids out to play when we’re winning. It seems like we’ve got some excitement going on around here because we’re relevant for a change.”

He said the key is to keep the momentum going next year, despite the departures of those five seniors, including Potoka, who was second on the team in batting with a .354 average, and Govern’s son, Anthony Govern, arguably the team’s top player with a team-leading .385 batting average and a 4-3 pitching record with a 3.09 ERA.

Potoka, like others, would love to see more Southmoreland students join the baseball program.

He was hoping for more interest from players who bypassed the high school team to concentrate on summer league travel squads.

“There’s younger kids out there who can play the game,” Potoka said, mentioning sophomore Ty Keffer, who was 2-3 this season with a team-leading 2.26 ERA in 4313 innings pitched and also was third in batting with a .352 average.

“Ty did a good job for us,” Potoka said, “and he’s friends with some guys his age who don’t play for the high school team. You hear that more guys will come out, but then they usually don’t. Hopefully, next year, we’ll see. Kids say everything all the time.”

Southmoreland’s latest record has given the program a total of 13 victories over the past two years under Al Govern, who took over as coach in 2017 and promptly suffered through an 0-16 campaign.

“It was stressful,” said Govern, a Southmoreland graduate and former Scotties baseball player.

It didn’t get much better with a 2-14 mark in 2018 and a 3-15 showing in 2019.

After a canceled year in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Southmoreland came out hot in 2021, winning five of its first six games before stumbling with nine consecutive losses to finish 5-10.

“We just needed to win one game out of the remaining four section games to get into the playoffs,” Govern said.

“In one game, we were beating Charleroi in the third inning 16-1 and lost 22-20.”

Reminded of that dark day, Potoka sighed.

“We just couldn’t put it together when we needed to,” he said.

“This year, we showed we could be something.”

Joining Potoka and Anthony Govern as outgoing seniors at Southmoreland are first baseman Kory Ansell, left fielder Vinny Ledbetter and center fielder Noah Phillips.

“Those five seniors I’ve been coaching since they were 8 years old,” Al Govern said.

“The goal from the start was for those guys to take this program to new heights. I set personal goals year in and year out, and I ask my players to set goals for themselves.”

It marked just the third time Southmoreland has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs, where the Scotties are 1-3. They also made the field in 2006.

“I’m happy for our seniors. We’re way further ahead as a program,” Al Govern said.

“It was an emotional end for those guys, but the younger guys have seen what it takes. Guys understand now.”

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