St. Joseph baseball ready to cut loose after canceled season

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Thursday, April 1, 2021 | 6:09 PM


Only one senior was lost from the 2019 St. Joseph baseball team that finished 8-8 overall and suffered a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to Union in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class A playoffs.

Expectations were high for the Spartans entering last season, but all of the hopes and goals were squashed when the PIAA suspended and ultimately canceled the spring high school seasons amid growing concerns of the covid pandemic.

“I felt for the seniors because they were my seniors, but I felt for all the seniors in all the sports in the school and the other seniors who were missing prom, missing graduations,” St. Joseph coach Kurt Krebs said.

“It was so disappointing for all of those kids. For us, I think what hurt the most was just not being able to play, even more so than the success I think they would’ve had. Winning is great, but just being out there playing and competing with your teammates and friends is a special thing.

“It was challenging at times to get in the gym (over the winter) to do work with how basketball was backed up, but guys were here when we were able to meet, and they put in a lot of good work to be ready.”

St. Joseph is fronted by a trio of captains in senior Hayden Mallin (pitcher/third base/first base) and juniors Anthony Kuhns (pitcher/third base/shortstop) and Simon Szalla (second base/pitcher).

“Last year, we were shaping up to be pretty good, and having the season canceled really (hurt),” Mallin said. “I felt really bad for last year’s seniors who didn’t get a chance to go out and play their final year. But we’re all excited and ready to get back to it.”

Mallin enjoyed a strong sophomore season when he batted .359 (14 of 39) with three doubles, a triple, a home run, 16 runs batted in and nine runs scored. He also went 3-1 on the mound with a 3.39 ERA, and Krebs said he will be the ace of the staff.

“I get a sense right now that Hayden is just waiting to get cut loose,” Krebs said. “Two years of waiting just built up in him. No one lives and breathes baseball the way Hayden does. It’s just who he is.”

Kuhns is hoping for a big year after injury issues poked holes in a promising freshman season. In five early-season games in 2019, he batted .250 (4 for 16) with a pair of RBIs.

“Anthony has the athletic ability to play anywhere on the field,” Krebs said. “He’s been out of action even longer, since early in his freshman year. So, I know he’s looking forward to this season and how he can help the team. He’s grown and matured so much.”

Krebs said second base is solid with the returning Szalla, who saw action in six games as a freshman.

“We don’t have to move him around,” Krebs said. “We are confident with him at second as the anchor of the infield. He always knows what’s going on and where he needs to be. It’s like having a coach on the field.”

Senior Andrew Sullivan, who became the career points leader in the history of St. Joseph boys basketball this winter, hopes for similar success on the diamond. The right fielder played 14 games as a sophomore and collected 10 RBIs and added nine runs scored.

“Right field is the worst position at our field because of the sun and the wind, and Andrew took it over as a freshman and has just mastered it,” Krebs said. “Whatever the elements throw at him, he makes right field look like a piece of cake.”

Krebs said he’s encouraged by the enthusiasm of a quartet of freshman players as well as other older newcomers who love the game, want to play and who are hoping to make a difference.

Freshman Owen Swanson will be at shortstop and also will factor greatly in the pitching rotation, Krebs said. Fellow freshman Justin Hyland will be in center field and will pitch as well.

“Both of those guys are very smooth defensively and are aggressive hitters,” Krebs said. “They are not overwhelmed by the moment. They won’t feel lost playing varsity baseball as freshmen.”

Sophomore Matt Parsi was the starting catcher at the start of last season, and Krebs said he’s anxious to finally get his shot behind the plate.

“He’s taken the time to build a rapport with the pitchers,” Krebs said. “He works well with the staff and calls a good game.”

Left field, Krebs said, still is very much up for grabs.

“We have a lot of guys who have been working and competing out there,” Krebs said. “The guys bring different things to the table. A lot of what happens there could come down to who is pitching and who is moving around.”

St. Joseph is scheduled to open its season Tuesday and Wednesday with a home-and-home series with Section 3-A rival Riverview. The Spartans also will face Eden Christian, Leechburg, Sewickley Academy and Springdale in section play.

“(The new section structure) will build new rivalries and strengthen old ones,” Krebs said. “When you see a team back-to-back days, if they beat you the first game, you’ll fight hard to take one back while they will do what they can to get that sweep. It brings more excitement to the game. It’s a boost to the WPIAL. It’s a great idea, and I hope they keep it.”

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

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