Springdale’s John Hughes earns Valley News Dispatch Baseball Player of Year award

Saturday, June 24, 2023 | 8:11 PM

John Hughes produced some eye-popping statistics this spring.

He had a .649 batting average and pitched to a 2.08 ERA, but maybe the most incredible stat of all was that he didn’t strike out once in 53 plate appearances.

Hughes won the WPIAL regular season batting title and finished second in the regular season in pitcher strikeouts with 78 in his junior season at Springdale.

Those accomplishments earned him 2023 Valley News Dispatch baseball player of the year honors.

His season may have gone under the radar a bit with Springdale going 5-10 and missing the playoffs, but he was among the best in the WPIAL in hitting and pitching.

Hughes has had some time to reflect on it all, but it’s still sinking in.

“It kind of surprises you when you look at it and see your name at the top of the lists,” Hughes said. “It is something that is bigger than I thought I’d be.”

Dynamos coach Dante Mahlmeister is not shocked by any of the success Hughes had this season.

Mahlmeister is a 2016 Springdale grad, and he’s followed the program his entire life. He said there’s been some great players for the Dynamos over the years like Joe Killian, who went on to be an All-American at Allegheny, but he’s never seen anyone like Hughes.

“He hit .550 as a sophomore and coming into the season, I was talking with my coaches and I said, ‘Man, .550 is going to be hard to top,’” Mahlmeister said. “Then he goes out and hits .650 this year. The kid is unreal. He’s almost a guaranteed barrel into the gap every time he comes up to the plate. He works so hard.”

Hughes had 24 hits in 37 at-bats with five doubles, a pair of triples, a homer and 14 RBIs. He walked 11 times and finished with an on-base percentage of .736 with a 1.709 OPS. He also stole 20 bases.

Hughes credited offseason work with his dad, John Sr., as well as Springdale’s coaching staff with helping him achieve such gaudy numbers.

“My coaches have helped me a lot with my approach to hitting,” Hughes said. “I stayed after practices for extra reps, and they pushed me farther than I thought I could be. They wanted me to be good. I thank them for that.”

Hughes started receiving some major respect from opponents as the season went on. He was intentionally walked on several occasions when the Dynamos were down multiple runs.

“It’s pretty cool. I can’t lie,” Hughes said. “It’s hard to explain, but it does put a smile on your face when you know they don’t even want to deal with you.”

On the mound, Hughes crafted a four-pitch arsenal — four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a slider and a cutter. He ended up going 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA over 33.2 innings.

He pitched a two-hit, complete game shutout with 15 strikeouts in a 2-0 win over Western Beaver on May 5.

Hughes said Springdale pitching coach Alex Pane helped him develop as a pitcher.

“He helped me a lot with arm care to keep my arm ready to throw 100 pitches a week and helped me if I had an off day,” Hughes said. “If I wasn’t following through enough on my pitches, he’d show me how to fix that. My catcher (Joe Wylly) helped a lot too. It’s easier to pitch when you have a good relationship with your catcher.”

Hughes is spending the summer playing travel ball with Rawlings Tigers 18U. He’ll attend a national showcase with the team in Cincinnati later this summer. He’s hoping to catch the eye of some college recruiters. His goal is to play in college and study business.

Hughes has one more season at Springdale. His profile as a player has risen, and his goal is to help the program rise as well before he leaves.

“I want to make playoffs,” Hughes said. “It’d be my first time playing in the playoffs at Springdale. Maybe we can make a run. That would be great.”

First team

Brandon Butler

Sr., IF, Apollo-Ridge

The Slippery Rock recruit hit .516 this spring with four doubles, four triples and a pair of homers. Butler also had a team-best 13 RBIs and a .615 on-base percentage.

Zach Clark

Sr., IF/P, Freeport

Clark paced Freeport in several offensive categories. He hit .492 with a dozen doubles, a pair of triples, a homer and 23 RBIs. He was also effective on the mound, carrying a 2.03 ERA with 26 strikeouts.

Brady Dojonovic

Sr., P/OF, Plum

Dojonovic was a reliable two-way player who helped the Mustangs reach the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals. He hit .421 with three doubles and carried a 4-1 record with a 3.17 ERA. He had 51 strikeouts over 46.1 innings on the mound.

Blake Fritz

Jr., OF, Kiski Area

Fritz was a steady bat for the Cavaliers, hitting .366 with four doubles, a triple and 12 RBIs. He helped the Cavaliers break a three-year playoff drought and was named a first-team All-Section 4-4A outfielder.

Jeremy Haigh

So., P/IF, Fox Chapel

Haigh was sensational on the hill for the Foxes this spring. The lefty went 6-1 with a 1.02 ERA with 41 strikeouts and only seven earned runs allowed over 48 innings. He also hit .412 with three doubles and drove in 10 runs.

Michael Hanz

So., P, Freeport

A year removed from an arm injury, Hanz fronted the Freeport pitching staff. He carried a 1.74 ERA and had a team-best 46 strikeouts. He combined with Clark to pitch a no-hitter against Apollo-Ridge.

Zach Johnston

Sr., IF, Fox Chapel

A steady force at the top of the Foxes lineup, Johnston hit .367 with seven doubles, two triples and 19 RBIs. He was also an anchor in the infield as the Foxes shortstop. Johnston will continue his baseball career at Juniata.

Enzo Lio

Sr., P/IF/OF, Riverview

The Raiders’ ace this spring, Lio was near the top of the WPIAL in strikeouts with 76. He finished 6-1 with a 1.23 ERA over 45.2 innings on the hill. Lio also hit .298 with five doubles and a triple and drove in eight runs.

Owen McDermott

Sr., P/IF, Leechburg

McDermott shined as a two-way player for the Blue Devils. The Mt. Aloysius recruit hit .439 with 14 doubles, a triple and 27 RBIs. He went 6-2 on the mound with a 2.07 ERA with 57 strikeouts over 47.1 innings.

Lebryn Smith

Sr., P, Kiski Area

Smith was a key contributor for the Cavaliers on the mound and at the plate. He had a 4-2 record with a 2.65 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched. He also hit .327 with a pair of doubles, a homer and a dozen RBIs.

Second team

Tyler Asti, Sr., C, Freeport

Tyler Burke, Sr., OF/C, Leechburg

Ryan Cochran, Jr., OF, Deer Lakes

Dom DiNinno, Sr., IF/OF, Kiski Area

Nikolas Heakins, Fr., IF/OF, Valley

Chase Henry, So., IF/P, Leechburg

Luke Migely, Sr., IF, Riverview

Caden Norcutt, Sr., IF/P, Plum

Jackson Smetak, Sr., IF, Freeport

Troy Susnak, Jr., IF, Fox Chapel

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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