St. Joseph baseball team motivated to reach postseason

Thursday, March 21, 2019 | 7:58 PM

The smallest margin possible kept St. Joseph from reaching the WPIAL baseball playoffs last season, an excruciating result for a program that last reached the postseason at the turn of the millennium.

Given that several regulars return, the Spartans aren’t forgetting that result. Nor do they wish to repeat it.

St. Joseph comes into the season aiming to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000 and thereby end the Alle-Kiski Valley’s longest postseason drought.

“Just knowing that we haven’t had enough success to make the playoffs since 2000 is definitely enough motivation for us to want to make it to the playoffs,” junior Dom Fellowes said. “Just doing that would prove so many people wrong. It would finally give us that confidence. It would really boost our program and our school.”

St. Joseph nearly earned that elusive playoff bid last season, even with a 3-10 overall record.

The Spartans needed a win over Leechburg in their second meeting to force a fourth-place tie, and they held a 2-1 lead going into the sixth inning. But Leechburg scored twice to take the lead, and St. Joseph left the bases loaded in the seventh inning to fall one win shy of the postseason.

“There’s been a complete attitude change from when I first walked in last year,” second-year coach Kurt Krebs said. “Last year, there was really a feeling of when I’d hear guys talk, like, ‘Hopefully we can win a couple this year, hopefully we can do this and do that.’ Whereas I walk in this year, and it’s, ‘Guys, we can be good this year.’”

Krebs’ optimism stems from a core group of returnees, including the bulk of its pitching rotation.

St. Joseph actually has an interesting group of players: mostly juniors with experience mixed with freshmen who are brand new to varsity baseball. The Spartans’ roster counts just two seniors, both of whom are new to the team.

“They get along well,” Krebs said. “It’s not like the junior clique and the freshman clique. They’re all just one big group. They hang out together, they get along well, so it makes it easier for the freshmen to kind of be around the upperclassmen and to learn from them.”

The freshmen who step in can learn from St. Joseph’s experienced players, many of whom already have a season or two of significant experience at the varsity level.

Junior Tyler Wood returns atop the rotation after anchoring the pitching staff the last two seasons. He struck out 17 batters in the second Leechburg matchup last season, finishing the season with 40 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. Sophomore Hayden Mallin had an eye-opening punchout rate of his own, with 32 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings.

Fellowes, who spent last season out of position at catcher, will move back to his natural position of shortstop and can pitch in on the mound, while junior Bowen Lambermont also can provide innings.

Junior Eli Swierczewski will anchor the outfield, while classmate Joseph Godinez can fit almost any position on the field. Junior outfielder Kenny Zhang is working his way back from injury.

“I’m definitely comfortable this year, and I’m just ready to play,” Fellowes said.

Freshman Trevor Greenwald will step in at catcher this season, while classmates Anthony Kuhns and C.J. Singleton can play either infield or outfield. Senior Grant Bendis, who didn’t play last season, is another potentially versatile contributor.

“It’s definitely a higher level than it was in seventh or eighth grade, but I think (the freshmen are) definitely going to fit in,” Fellowes said. “Talking to them and getting to know them, they have experience with summer ball and they’ve been in tournaments and stuff like that. It’s a bit of a tough adjustment at first, but once you get in a few games, they’ll get comfortable and they’ll get the feel of it for sure.”

While the arms are St. Joseph’s strength, the Spartans are looking to get better with their bats after hitting .232 as a team last season. Swierczewski is a spark plug with his speed, Fellowes hit a team-best .366 and Wood and Mallin are potential power players in the middle of the lineup.

St. Joseph will play in Section 3-A with Clairton, Greensburg Central Catholic, Leechburg, Springdale and Vincentian. The Spartans are scheduled to open the season Friday at Riverview.

“They just want to play ball,” Krebs said. “They don’t really care where they’re at (on the field) or anything else. They just want to play ball and try to win. Getting this team to the playoffs is very important to them.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .


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