Senior Spotlight: Mars pitcher using downtime to improve game before heading to college

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020 | 3:07 PM


With its season on the line a year ago, the Mars baseball team turned in one of its best performances of the year.

In a four-hour, 11-inning battle, Mars defeated top seed West Allegheny in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. Fightin’ Planets senior Joey Craska pitched 5 innings of shutout relief while only allowing one hit and striking out nine before reaching his 105-pitch limit.

“With all of the high school games I’ve played in, and we’ve had some crazy basketball games,” Craska said, “that game was up there for one of the best high school atmospheres that I’ve been a part of. It was awesome.”

The Fightin’ Planets lost their next two games in the WPIAL playoffs. But, with a historic win and a junior season where he went 7-1 with a 1.56 ERA, Craska was looking forward to another shot at making a playoff run to cap off his high school career.

“I was really excited. I thought we had a chance to win the WPIAL with some of the guys that we had coming back,” Craska said. “I thought we had a good chance, and I was devastated when the season got canceled. But you just have to understand with everything going on, you just have to be safe.”

Unfortunately, those hopes were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. But rather than sit back during the quarantine, Craska has used the downtime to get even better before he heads off to New Jersey Institute of Technology.

He said he’s settled into a routine where he finishes his schoolwork before noon, then spends the rest of the day lifting weights or working out with his brothers, Frank and Petey.

“I’m just using this time to get better,” Craska said. “I figured I’m not going to be playing anytime soon, so I might as well be the best I can when I come out of this.”

What’s your best memory from playing baseball for Mars?

Beating West A last year in the WPIAL quarterfinals. They were obviously the top dog to beat last year, and it was just awesome. Eleven innings. It was just an insane atmosphere.

With the game on the line, would you rather be on the mound or at the plate?

On the mound, 100%.

If you could face any hitter, HS/College/MLB, who would it be?

I faced Austin (Hendrick, West A) last year in that game, and he’s the best I’ve faced in my career so far. But if I had to pick one, I think I’d like to face Jose Altuve or someone from the Astros. I’d just want to get them out. So, I’ll say Jose Altuve.

What’s your strikeout pitch?

Fastball. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than blowing one by someone and getting a swing and miss.

What’s your favorite sports moment as a fan?

I was at the Pirates wild-card game in 2013. So just being there, being a part of it, hearing the “Cueto” chants. It was unbelievable.

What have you been doing while you’re stuck at home?

Other than working out, I’ve been playing a lot of pool. My pool game has definitely gotten a lot better over this quarantine.

What stuck out about the New Jersey Institute of Technology to you?

The coaching staff is a real young good group of guys, and I feel like I can get along with them really well. I see the plan that they have for me and for the team, so I am really excited to get there.

Do you have any idea what you want to major in?

Business.

If you could choose anyone to give a commencement speech at your graduation, who would it be?

Michael Jordan. Especially after watching the first two episodes of “The Last Dance.“

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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