Tough nonsection slate paying off for Greensburg Central Catholic baseball

Tuesday, April 23, 2019 | 7:56 PM

Going into the season with seven new starters, Greensburg Central Catholic baseball coach Dennis Reist beefed up the schedule with an early run of difficult nonsection opponents and hoped Mother Nature would cooperate.

Reist wanted to give his younger players a challenge right off the bat to get them up to speed before section play.

For the most part the weather cooperated, and aside from stacking wins they got pretty much everything they wanted.

The Centurions are 4-7 overall and 3-1 in Section 3-A, but don’t be fooled by the overall record.

They feel like they are rounding into form after a tough slate of games with teams like Ligonier Valley, Steel Valley and DuBois Central Catholic and once again expect to be a factor in WPIAL Class A.

“Two years ago when we had Neal McDermott and Jack Liberatore it was one of our best teams, and that season we started off slow,” senior outfielder/pitcher Joel LoNigro said. “We always seem to play our best toward the end of the season.”

LoNigro and Tom Voelker are the only two returning starters from last year’s team. The Centurions graduated six seniors and Bryce Kurpiel, a first-team all-section first baseman last year, left the team to pursue track and field.

That left the Centurions with a lot of new faces, and Reist said part of the reason for the aggressive nonsection slate was that all eight junior varsity games that were scheduled for last year were rained out. Another reason was to see quality pitching before getting into section play.

There were some positives during the nonsection stretch such as being one of two teams to date to keep Ligonier Valley under 10 runs and play all seven innings, and they did it twice. They lost 9-1 in the first meeting and 8-1 in the rematch.

The Centurions built confidence at the plate and were hitting .284 as a team entering Tuesday. Sophomore Dylan Sebek leads the team with a .429 batting average, and fellow sophomore Alex Miller is second, hitting .364.

Reist also likes his pitching depth with Miller, LoNigro, Voelker, Ben LaCarte and Tommy Salley.

They also saw what they needed to work on, which starts with defense.

The Centurions have an entirely new infield, including Voelker, a converted outfielder, and have had their ups and downs with errors early on, but are hopeful the miscues will be limited going forward.

“We’re hitting very well,” Reist said. “Dylan and Alex are my most consistent hitters right now, and they are both sophomores. That’s a big plus. Tommy Voelker is hitting with a lot of power right now, which has helped. I think once the defense comes around, I think we’ll be all right.”

The defensive issues hurt the Centurions against section rival Vincentian Academy on April 13. They scored four runs in the top of the seventh to take a one-run lead into the bottom half, but three infield errors allowed the Royals to score twice to walk off with a 7-6 victory.

It was a bitter loss and a good lesson going forward.

“We just needed to execute and make the plays that we’re given,” Voelker said. “We came into that seventh inning wanting ground balls and we got them, but we had three errors in that inning, which was ridiculous. It’s a new infield, and we’re getting used to playing under pressure. I think that pressure had something to do with those errors, and now that we’ve had a close game I think we’ll be good to go for the next time.”

Greensburg Central Catholic hosts Vincentian for the rematch May 1.

Voelker, a junior, has been what Reist called the team’s “emotional leader,” and he described LoNigro as a steady senior leader. Voelker sees a lot of potential with his less experienced teammates and feels it is his job, along with LoNigro, to help them out.

“I just want to be the guy that takes charge, and honestly just help everyone out and make sure everyone is OK,” Voelker said. “I want to be there to pick them up when they are down. If they strike out, just tell them to shake it off and not to take it with them to the field.”

Greensburg Central Catholic has been in the PIAA playoffs the last four years and has one WPIAL title (2015) during that span. The Centurions want to continue the streak.

“The way that I look at it is there’s no secret to winning,” LoNigro said. “You go out and work hard in practice, try to perform well in games and have fun, and then winning comes with that. I try to help our guys see that point of it.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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