Section championship the goal for Derry baseball team

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Saturday, March 20, 2021 | 1:20 PM


After planning to publicly do so last year before the pandemic canceled the schedule, the Derry baseball team will try again this season to honor the memory of the mother of one of its players by including her initials on the team’s hats.

Wendy Jones, the mother of Sam Jones, died of cancer Jan. 30, 2020, and the senior outfielder/first baseman and his teammates are hoping her lasting memory will motivate them to play at a higher level, coach John Flickinger said.

“I’m expecting big things from Sam and from the rest of this group,” Flickinger said. “We’re on a mission right now.”

Wendy S. (Roth) Jones, a longtime teacher in the Greater Latrobe School District, was 46.

Her passing has been a centerpiece of Derry’s motivation for more than a year now. The Trojans, who hope to finally open the year March 28 with a Sunday afternoon, nonsection game at Baldwin, won a pair of WPIAL section titles in 1990 and ‘92 with Flickinger doing most of the catching for those standout teams.

Three decades later, his vigilance for another banner year rages on.

“We’ve come close several times, but we’ve still not won a section title since ‘92,” said Flickinger, who also played on Derry’s section runner-up team in 1991. “That’s what the kids have been shooting for. That’s what they’d like to get for the banner.”

Flickinger, who went on to play at IUP after his high school days, served a total of 13 years as an assistant at Penn-Trafford and Derry, where he took over the program in 2012 but has yet to earn a section championship as a coach.

Derry and Mt. Pleasant this season are among the WPIAL teams to have dropped one classification to Class 3A and will be joined in Section 3 by Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, Ligonier Valley and Valley.

Following the shutdown last season, Derry returns nearly its entire team from two years ago, losing just one senior who was denied an opportunity to play last year.

Eight returning lettermen are among 10 seniors and six juniors on the current 17-man varsity roster. Outfielder Antonio Hauser is the lone sophomore.

“We are at the top of the mountain as far as numbers. We have 30 guys out,” Flickinger said, referring to grades 9-12. “This is a team we’ve molded from when they were freshmen and sophomores.

“From a perspective of how many arms I have and how many kids I have that are baseball saavy, I don’t think I’ve ever coached a group like I have this year.”

The returnees include senior shortstop Josh Ulery, a Pitt-Johnstown commit, who is among four pitchers expected to eat up the bulk of the innings for the Trojans, who were 8-11 in 2019.

The others are seniors Paul Koontz and Nick Detore and 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior Ryan Hood.

“Hood has fantastic stuff,” Flickinger said. “But I have no problem putting any of them out there in any situation.”

Ulery will be paired in the middle infield with senior second baseman Ryan Bushey, a tandem about which Flickinger raved.

“I’ll put them up against anybody in our section,” he said. “They’re pretty smooth. They work well together and have been working together since their freshmen year.”

The outfield is anchored by senior centerfielder Matt McDowell, a defensive wizard whom the team refers to as “The Ball Hawk.” Flickinger said he’s confident McDowell can improve on his hitting stroke to become “a complete player.”

Hauser and junior Nick Thomas, at times, are expected to join McDowell in the outfield, with Jones sharing time there and at first base. Seniors Jaden Jackson and Elijah Penich are other outfield candidates.

Junior Brayden Mickinac is back for his third seasons at catcher, but he’ll also fill in at third base, Flickinger said, giving junior Noah Cymmerman some time behind the plate.

Other infielders bidding for playing time are seniors Elijah and Isaiah Ward and juniors Lucas Ray and Jake Watson.

“Our veteran leadership has made it so much easier to move on in practices,” Flickinger said. “The guys have been in the system long enough now that we’ve had to do less coaching of the little things. Repetition is the key when you get outside in Western Pennsylvania. These guys have gotten a lot of reps, and I know they have some potential to do some really good things.

“We could have a special season, but they need to go out and play and get it done.”

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