Thomas Jefferson baseball achieved goal of daily improvement

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Sunday, June 13, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Thomas Jefferson’s baseball team advanced to the WPIAL playoffs in 2021.

The Jaguars finished with a 5-10 record after losing to eventual WPIAL champion Franklin Regional, 14-3, in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

“We preach that we need to get at least a little better each day. I feel this year’s squad did that,” TJ coach Tim Vickers said. “It was tough not having our normal offseason preparations, but we weren’t the only school that had that issue.

“I’m proud of our players for working as hard as they could in the short amount of time they had. I’m also proud to know that Chase Lautner (Potomac State) and Marco Gambino (Westminster) are already committed to play college baseball next year.”

Gambino, a senior catcher who served as team captain, and senior outfielder Preston Zandier, a senior outfielder and three-sport standout, were two of the team leaders for the Jaguars.

“This season wasn’t really what I thought it would be like. We just didn’t have the pitching and hitting needed to win baseball games,” Zandier said. “My season went well. I hit the baseball pretty well and tried my best to help the team win.”

Zandier was a top WPIAL football player at wide receiver/linebacker, helping lead the Jaguars to WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2020. He also was a standout at the forward position for the Jaguars basketball team, and will continue his football career at Youngstown State.

“I loved high school baseball. It was a nice break from the fast-paced football and basketball practices and games,” Zandier said. “Sad it’s over, but I loved every second of it thanks to my coaches and friends.”

Gambino played football early in his high school days but then turned his focus solely on baseball.

“We struggled at the beginning of the year,” Gambino said. “We started to pick it up, then we ran into some lockdown pitchers. We were able to compete with teams early in the game, then in the later innings we couldn’t hold the lead.”

Gambino’s baseball career began as a T-ball player at age 5. His time with the TJ baseball team was delayed until his sophomore season because of a football-related injury in his freshman year.

Gambino and Zandier were Big 56 first team all-section selections.

“When I was younger, I started out at shortstop,” Gambino said. “By the time I was in middle school, I started catching and have really enjoyed it ever since. The past few years, I have dedicated all my time to baseball.

“I was happy with my career, playing with the same group of guys I started with. Many of us play multiple sports, and a lot of us have grown up together.”

Another key member of the TJ baseball team this spring was junior McClain Flinn, a varsity starter since the first game of his freshman year. He is a right-handed pitcher who can play any of the infield or outfield positions.

“This season was upsetting, losing so early in the playoffs,” Flinn said, “but it was a good time playing with all my friends. I think we could have done much better overall, but losing a lot of offseason time due to covid did not help.

“We’re most likely going to be very young next year. Most of our team this year were seniors and a couple underclassmen, but I think if we get our offseason time in we can have a chance to make a run.”

Flinn is an integral member of the Jaguars football team, starting at wide receiver/defensive back. He had the biggest interception of the year for TJ last fall, intercepting an Aliquippa pass in the end zone in overtime in a 35-28 win in the WPIAL championship game.

Thomas Jefferson’s top two offensive players this spring proved to be Zandier, with a .419 batting average, and senior middle infielder Shultz Reinhart, who hit .359. Mark Stover and Lautner (P/3B), both seniors, combined for 68 strikeouts on the mound.

Reinhart was named second team all-section; Stover landed honorable mention status.

Players expected to return for TJ in 2022 include Flinn, junior outfielders Brady Haberman and Ryan Sluk, junior infielders Angelo Volomino and Jaxson Szarmach, sophomore Lance Vickers (C/3B) and freshman Brody Evans (1B), among others.

Sluk, who was injured this season, and Vickers will join Flinn on the TJ pitching staff.

“Once again, we will be young (in 2020),” coach Vickers said. “We had exit meetings to talk about starting all our offseason programs a little bit earlier. It was great to hear a lot of the kids have already started.”

Thomas Jefferson was in a new section this year, joining Albert Gallatin, Bethel Park, Connellsville, Peters Township and Trinity in Section 4-5A.

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