Trib HSSN Baseball Team of the Week: South Park

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Sunday, March 31, 2019 | 11:24 PM


The first Trib HSSN Baseball Team of the Week for the 2019 season headed south to open up the new season and returned home to start section play this week with four wins in five games: the South Park Eagles.

Under Steve Bucci, South Park has been a perennial power with a WPIAL championship in 2013 and a PIAA runner-up in 2017. It seems to be a section and district contender on a yearly basis.

A year ago, the Eagles finished 14-6 overall and in fourth place in a tough Section 3-4A that produced eventual WPIAL runner-up and PIAA champion Ringgold.

But South Park’s postseason stay was short as it was upset by Greensburg Salem, 8-2, in the first round.

However, a strong start this season with a 4-1 trip to the Ripken Complex in Myrtle Beach, S.C. has the Eagles ready to fly high again.

“I think the trip was a successful for our team in many ways,” Bucci said. “First, we got to see all of our pitching in the five games played. We have a real young roster so getting experience was critical, and that’s a huge factor in doing these trips.

“Players win and lose jobs during this time, so we are very serious and aren’t down in South Carolina for a vacation.”

Senior Kevin Vaupel, a Seton Hill recruit, pitched a one-hitter against Ohio power Chardon while striking out 10. Junior pitcher and shortstop Brendan Gray threw a three-hit shutout and struck out eight in a whitewash of Sheldon Clark from Kentucky.

“Gray played great defense throughout the trip as Vaupel did, as well, playing first base,” Bucci said.

After losing their season opener in South Carolina, wins over Sheldon Clark, Chardon, Morgan County (Ky.) and Sullivan North (Tenn.) by a combined score of 30-4 sent the Eagles north with plenty of optimism.

They also returned with a record-setting coach.

The second win of the season allowed Bucci, now in his 23rd season coaching and second stint at South Park, to break the record for most wins in school history previously held by Bob Kaufman with 223.

“What it means to me personally is that I have been coaching a long time,” Bucci said jokingly. “I have had some tremendous baseball players, assistant coaches, parents, principals, school boards, superintendents, athletic directors and most of all, a supportive wife.

“This is my 16th (season) at South Park having coached at Serra Catholic, Canon-McMillan and Bethel Park. I think it’s a cool record because it’s shared with all the people I named above. Everyone chipped in somewhere.”

South Park is expected to contend for the Section 3-4A title along with the three playoff teams from a year ago in this section: Belle Vernon, West Mifflin and defending state champion and district runner-up Ringgold.

“As far as Section 3, I think you have to now dethrone Ringgold,” Bucci said. “They will be a solid bunch for sure. Watch out for Belle Vernon, and TJ dropping down could be a factor in the section.”

Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.

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