Sopata, Dolan return to lead Baldwin baseball team

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Friday, April 5, 2019 | 5:15 PM


The Baldwin baseball team is aiming to make a stronger playoff push this season despite losing 10 seniors to graduation from last year’s club.

The Highlanders started out 0-4 and 1-8 in 2018, then went 5-3 down the home stretch to end up 6-11 overall.

“We expect to be improved this year from last season in all aspects,” said Rocky Plassio, Baldwin’s third-year coach. “We expect to be competitive in all games and contend for a playoff spot. Defensively, we should be pretty solid. We return the majority of our pitching from last season, as well.

“Our attitude, work ethic and our overall approach to the game have been areas of focus for us. We believe we are better prepared this year to compete, given the work that we did in this offseason and preseason.”

Baldwin posted a 4-8 record in Section 3-6A a year ago, as Bethel Park (11-1) finished first, and was followed by Canon-McMillan (9-3). Upper St. Clair, Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon tied for third.

The 10 seniors on last year’s club were Kory Tierney (1B), Jake Monroe (IF/P), Jake Panchak (OF), Ray Luffy (C), Scott Meyer (OF), Pete Aul (OF), Jordan Rush (SS/2B), Caleb Giel (OF), Robert Wolfson (OF) and Jon Otto (P/DH).

Two key returning starters for the Highlanders are senior outfielder Andy Sopato and junior infielder Nick Dolan, who hit .393 and .370, respectively.

Sopata was a first-team all-section selection last season. Plassio expects a big things this spring from the talented center fielder.

“In my opinion, Andy is quite possibly the most underrated and underappreciated player in the entire section,” Plassio said. “He is an outstanding player who deserves much more recognition from college coaches than he has been given. He has been our leading hitter each of the last two seasons, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from him this season.

“He’s a great kid who simply knows how to play the game the right way, in any situation.”

Dolan, a pitcher/shortstop, was lauded as a second-team all-section selection in 2018.

“Nick is our best pitcher and also bats in the middle of our order,” Plassio said. “He has been receiving a fair amount of interest from D2 and even some D1 coaches. We are looking forward to big things from Nick this year.”

Dolan led the club in RBIs last season.

“My expectations for the team are the same as in previous years, to make it to the playoffs and work to win that WPIAL title and hang a banner for our high school,” Dolan said. “I feel we have a lot of chemistry because have played with each other for awhile now, so we know how to work well with one other. Also as a whole, our defense this year is very solid.

“In the preseason, we worked on a wide variety of things, starting with the basics of getting back into the routine of hitting and fielding, to pitchers throwing live bullpens, to conditioning ourselves so we were ready to go when the season finally started.”

Other key returning players include seniors Aaron Exler (IF/OF), Victor Silvestre (OF) and Ryan Butler (C); along with juniors Noah Fischer (OF) and Josh Dadig (2B), who was injured in Baldwin’s season opener.

Exler, a three-sport athlete, also has competed in football and basketball in 2018-19.

“Aaron Exler gives us many options defensively with his versatility, and will also be expected to contribute in the heart of the batting order,” Plassio said. “Josh Dadig had 30-plus at-bats last year as a sophomore; Noah Fischer contributed with outstanding defense.

“Ryan Butler will be our primary catcher and should also contribute offensively. Victor Silvestre contributed offensively in the second part of last season.”

Dolan, Sopata, senior Harry DePetro and junior Bryce Chapla form the core of the Highlanders’ pitching staff.

“When the WPIAL ranking came out for 6A, Baldwin was ranked very low and that doesn’t sit well with me,” Dolan said. “My goal is that I want to prove to everyone, and especially my team, that Baldwin is better than that ranking.

“This year, our team has a whole different mindset; the passion and leadership that myself, along with the other upperclassmen are bringing, is very effective, and that will follow up with how we play on the field and prove to others that we will compete.”

DePetro and Chapla are being counted on to tackle more integral roles on the mound this season.

“Bryce pitched a fair amount last year,” Plassio said. “He will have an increased role as both a position player and pitcher,” Plassio said. “Harry pitched some quality innings as a junior and will be expected to do the same this season.”

Three newcomers to the team are Kieran Schmidt, a junior first baseman; Fletcher Hindman, a sophomore middle infielder; and Jonathan Rauch, a freshman pitcher/outfielder.

“Hindman and Rauch are both exciting, young players who will help us now and in the future,” Plassio said. “Rauch is a left-handed freshman who we are high on.”

Rounding out the squad are juniors Chris Panza (IF), John Scarpino (OF) and Chris Bobuk (C).

Mike “Coop” Dzanaj is Plassio’s top assistant; Dominic Magnotti also is an assistant coach.

Baldwin is a member of Section 3-6A again this season. Brashear has replaced Allderdice in the section.

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