Southmoreland baseball driven to turn close losses into wins, playoff berth

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Thursday, April 1, 2021 | 5:49 PM


When the Southmoreland baseball team began preparing for a return to the diamond following last season’s covid-related layoff, coach Al Govern privately asked each player to come up with a goal.

In every case, he said, the players offered a similar response.

“It’s the playoffs or bust this year,” Govern said with a hint of glee.

Can you blame him? Southmoreland hasn’t qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 2008.

Just three seniors are on a 19-player roster for the Class 3A Scotties, who two years ago saw nearly half their losses decided by one run, including four in extra innings — a good sign that the program could be headed in the right direction.

“One of the seniors,” Govern said, referring to outfielder Logan Mutnansky, “hasn’t played since seventh grade.”

“We were in a lot of games,” he said. “But we can’t lose that momentum now, even though we lost five players who would’ve been seniors last year.”

The other seniors this year are pitcher/infielder Mason Basinger and second baseman Ben Zimmerman, both of whom are among six returning starters from that 2019 team that finished with a 4-15 record.

They join four juniors on the list: outfielder/pitcher Anthony Govern, designated hitter Vinny Ledbetter, outfielder Noah Morvosh and catcher Brok Potoka.

Before the pandemic hit in 2020, Govern relied mainly on the then-sophomore Basinger to anchor the team’s pitching staff, and the coach has been hopeful in the two years since that Basinger will have grown to give Southmoreland a true shutdown hurler.

“He’s already been a big-time pitcher for us as a sophomore,” said Govern, who indicated the senior right-hander mainly will play at shortstop when he’s not on the mound.

In Southmoreland’s opening game Monday, Basinger limited Monessen to two hits in a 15-0, four-inning victory.

The Scotties, who had a scheduled game Thursday at East Allegheny postponed, came back a day later on Tuesday and dropped a 5-2 decision to Frazier. Anthony Govern was a bright spot in relief for Southmoreland, yielding just two hits and one earned run while striking out 13 over the final 5⅔ innings.

“We just didn’t hit,” Al Govern said.

But the coach remained confident that the Scotties can rebound at the plate as the season progresses and his players get more comfortable in the batter’s box.

Meanwhile, junior Noah Phillips, a transfer from Frazier, is expected to play mainly at third base for Southmoreland.

Junior Kory Ansell, like Mutnansky, also is returning to baseball after a layoff, but Govern is expecting that the 6-foot-3, 280-pound first baseman can infuse some power into the Southmoreland lineup.

“He’s a big, strong kid who has shown to be a vacuum at first base,” Govern said of Ansell. “I wish we would have had him for all the years, but he’s a guy who’s also been committed to some other sports. He lifts for football, and he throws the shot put and discus for track. We’re hoping he’ll stick with us on the baseball side of it for now.”

Govern has been encouraged with what he’s seen in his young players, particularly among the freshmen. He’s been impressed by hard-throwing right-hander Kaiden Keefer, who also could see time at third base.

“The freshmen have shown a lot of promise,” Govern said. “They’ve been doing it in the field and at the plate. “The underclassmen can make the plays. They’ve really impressed me.”

With Govern in his third season as the Scotties’ coach, he’s counting on his players to meet their stated goal and return the program to playoff mode.

Southmoreland, which lost a total of seven one-run games in 2019, is aligned in Section 4-3A with Brownsville, Charleroi, McGuffey, Waynesburg and Yough.

“As long as I can get these guys to buy in,” Govern said, “half my work is done. But they’ve got to believe.”

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