St. Joseph baseball looks to build off breakout 2019 season

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Thursday, March 19, 2020 | 6:05 PM


The St. Joseph baseball team is coming off a breakout season as it qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2000 and scored an upset victory in the opening round.

The Spartans advanced to the Class A quarterfinals with a 10-1 win over No. 6 Monessen and took No. 3 Union, the eventual WPIAL runner-up, to the limit before losing 7-6.

“No one has forgotten what it felt like to be in the playoffs, win a playoff game and have a team the quality of Union on the ropes,” said St. Joseph coach Kurt Krebs, who welcomes back a large number of starters and contributors from last season’s team that went 8-8 overall and 5-5 in Section 3.

“Also, nobody has forgotten what it felt like to let that slip away and watch (Union) celebrate the win right in front of us. All of that has motivated guys this offseason.”

While the Spartans’ focus is on taking steps forward, the high school sports world is on hold to combat the spread of coronavirus (covid-19).

“Obviously, the best thing is trying to keep as many people as healthy as possible, not doing anything stupid that will put anyone at risk or keep the virus going any longer than it’s already going to go,” Krebs said. “It (stinks), but it’s reality right now, and we have to put our ideal world aside and play the hand we’ve been dealt and hope it passes as quickly as possible.”

Senior co-captain Tyler Wood, an infielder and a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, said he and his teammates hope to find ways to stay in shape and ready to come back if the WPIAL and PIAA decide to resume athletic activities.

“It’s been really rough, knowing the talent and potential we have this year,” Wood said. “It’s heartbreaking knowing we might not have the chance to play. But it’s important to maintain good nutrition and be as active as possible, including going on runs. I want to do what I can to keep my arm loose and strong.”

Senior Dom Fellows (shortstop/pitcher) and junior Hayden Mallin (infielder/pitcher) join Wood as captains. The trio form the core of the pitching staff.

Mallin led the team last season with three victories. Wood had two wins, including a 10-strikeout, three-hit performance against Monessen.

Fellows earned a pitching win against Springdale during a late-season surge that saw the Spartans win four of their final five section games to secure a postseason spot.

“Pitching has been one of the things I’ve felt most comfortable with going in,” Krebs said. “We have a pretty deep pitching staff, and that’s something you can’t always say at the single-A level just because of the sheer numbers.”

Krebs said senior Bowen Lambermont and sophomores Anthony Kuhns and Trevor Greenwald also are expected to pitch and play in the infield. Kuhns hopes to stay healthy after missing most of last season with a hip injury.

Wood (.553 average, 14 RBIs, 15 runs), Fellows (.512, eight RBIs, 21 runs) and Mallin (.359, 16 RBIs) led the team offensively last season.

“From the jump, no one really expected us to get that far,” Fellows said. “We all just worked so much harder than we did the year before. Everybody took it a lot more seriously. We’re all looking to build off that, and everything’s starting to click.”

Other returning players include seniors Joe Godinez (second base) and Eli Swierczewski (outfield) and junior Andrew Sullivan (utility). Godinez batted .341 (14 for 41) last season.

Krebs said Swierczewski, who has battled a return of Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that most often occurs in and around the bones, is ready to go for the season.

“At this point, he is all systems go,” Krebs said. “I know that Eli doesn’t want to be known as Eli, the kid with cancer. He wants to be Eli, the center fielder. A lot of the time, all we talk about is baseball, hitting and defense.”

Krebs said freshman Matthew Parsi will be the starting catcher.

While the goal is to win a section title, Krebs said it won’t be easy with defending section champion Vincentian Academy in its final season. Greensburg Central Catholic and Leechburg also qualified for the playoffs last year.

“Vincentian is always tough, and they have a lot to play for,” he said.

“They’re going to want to go out on top and savor every game. Greensburg Central Catholic is always a solid baseball team. We always have a tough time with Leechburg, and Springdale and Clairton are supposed to be better this year. It’s a section where you can’t just throw your glove on the field and expect to get a win. You have to play fundamentally sound each game, or you will get beat.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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