Thomas Jefferson baseball heads into second half of section play on roll

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Friday, April 26, 2019 | 6:50 PM


Thomas Jefferson ended the first half of its section schedule as one of the hottest baseball teams in the WPIAL.

The Jaguars won six of seven games in early April, including a 1-0 Section 3-4A victory April 18 at home against rival Belle Vernon.

Junior hurler Dylan Mallozzi was masterful that day, tossing a five-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and a walk. The Jaguars scored once in the bottom of the first inning, which was all the run support Mallozzi needed.

“This was the first time we handed Dylan the ball with the intention of him finishing a game,” said Tim Vickers, TJ’s first-year coach. “He went out and competed, pitch for pitch, against a strong lineup and an excellent opposing pitcher. … Without a doubt, it was his best pitching performance of this season.”

Mallozzi struck out 16 in his first 14 innings this season and had a 2.00 ERA.

The Jaguars (6-1, 8-3) were sparked against Belle Vernon by sophomore outfielder Preston Zandier and junior outfielder Cam Dimidjian with two hits apiece. Andy Kalup, a senior designated hitter, scored the game’s only run.

Thomas Jefferson closed out the first half of its schedule tied with defending state champion Ringgold atop the section.

TJ defeated Ringgold, 6-1, on April 8 at home. The Jaguars’ lone section loss was April 10 at Uniontown, 3-2.

“It has been great seeing this group continue to get better,” Vickers said. “We knew we had a chance to be pretty good.”

TJ had eight players hitting .300 or better at the halfway mark of the season, led by junior first baseman Mike Huber at .500 and Zandier at .455.

Huber had 15 hits in 30 at-bats, a .633 slugging percentage and had scored a team-leading 13 runs. Zandier’s slugging percentage stood at .545, and he scored 12 runs.

Huber ended the Belle Vernon game by tracking down a flare fly ball in foul territory, diving into the fence while making the catch.

“Mike has worked as hard as anyone,” Vickers said. “Mike is a kid that flat out competes.”

Huber is a two-sport athlete. Along with playing baseball for three years, he has been a member of the Jaguars’ football program the past two seasons and earned second-team all-conference last fall as a 6-foot, 290-pound offensive lineman.

The right-handed hitting Huber, who recently went on a Keto diet and has lost 45 pounds, said one of the keys to success for the Jaguars this spring has been strong pitching.

“We were underestimated (earlier) this season, but I believe this team is better than our team from my freshman year when we made our last playoff appearance,” Huber said. “Our pitching, to say the least, has been lights out, and the defense behind it is greatly improved from last year. Coach Vickers really worked on the fundamentals of the game in the winter, and it shows on the field.”

Meanwhile, Kalup (.394), junior third baseman Dom Pearson (.387), freshman shortstop McClain Flinn (.385), Dimidjian (.342), Mallozzi (.314) and senior catcher Josh Reynolds (.310), who plans to play at Pitt-Johnstown next year, are also hitting .300.

The Jaguars were hitting a .362 as a team with a .458 slugging percentage.

“Our mindset for the second half is to just play our game and don’t overlook any opponent,” Huber said. “We want to treat every game like it’s the WPIAL championship and guarantee our spot on top of the section.”

On the mound, Flinn was 3-1 with a 2.71 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 20 23 innings. Senior Thomas D’Ascenzo was 2-1 with a 0.38 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 1813 innings.

“It has been fun watching the team evolve,” said Vickers, who previously coached for 12 years at Steel Valley. “They are gaining confidence and experience every day.

“This team’s No. 1 quality is their desire to compete. We are looking forward to a challenging second half.”

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