Uncertainty clouds Deer Lakes baseball after losing 10 seniors

Monday, March 12, 2018 | 11:06 PM

Josh Tysk coaches in the WPIAL, not Major League Baseball. But the differences he notices on his Deer Lakes roster compared to, say, the Houston Astros go beyond age and pay grade.

“You look at the pro teams and they get to retain a lot of those pieces or they go out and try to add a guy that's a free agent,” said Tysk, entering his second season as Deer Lakes coach. “For the most part, it's the same nucleus. In high school baseball, you get that four-year turnover, and when you have a big class, you're not sure what you're going to get the next year.”

Deer Lakes will experience some of that uncertainty this season after losing 10 seniors from a team that advanced to the cusp of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs last season.

Should Tysk want to, however, he can fill out a starting nine of only seniors. The Lancers have nine on their roster with a variety of experience levels.

“We've got a lot of guys who have to step up and take over, and I think a lot of them are able to step up and do it,” senior Jake McCaskey said. “We want everything we had last year and even more. We want to get to where we were, and even further.”

The Lancers do have some sizable holes to fill, starting with the biggest one of all: 6-foot-5 Zach Lubick, who went 7-2 with a 1.43 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 53 23 innings to lead Deer Lakes to the WPIAL semifinals.

Lubick also topped the Lancers with a .455 average, two homers and 21 RBIs.

McCaskey will fill Lubick's shoes, if only metaphorically, in the middle of the Deer Lakes lineup and atop the rotation. While the Cal (Pa.) recruit can't match Lubick's size, he's coming off a season in which he batted .343 with 17 RBIs and went 3-2 with a 2.74 ERA on the mound and an offseason where he built up his strength with the Allegheny Pirates.

“I think if somebody puts a radar gun up behind the fence, they're going to be really surprised at what kind of numbers show up,” Tysk said of McCaskey, who will play shortstop when he doesn't pitch. “He's worked his tail off to become the player that he is.”

Senior Ben Colton and junior Greg Geis, both left-handers, and seniors Jake Kelly and Tyler Smith will fill out a pitching staff Tysk has immense confidence in.

“Zach was a fantastic player. It's hard to think about losing him this year,” McCaskey said. “But we're going to have three or four guys step up to fill his position.”

The defense, outside of McCaskey, remains a mystery as Tysk plans to mix and match players depending on who pitches.

“Some guys are going to have to be more like utility guys,” Tysk said. “We're going to have to make some significant defensive adjustments to keep our best hitters in the lineup.”

Smith, a Shaler transfer, senior Ben Bokulich and junior Josh Probst were among the contenders to replace experienced catcher Jake Spirnock, though Probst also can play in the outfield. Kelly and junior Cory Newman are among the infielders. Sophomore Andrew Bokulich is a top outfield contender and senior Cory Slagel can play all over the diamond.

How the lineup ultimately unfolds will determine whether Deer Lakes can match the success of 2017, Tysk said, but he believes in the Lancers' potential.

“This year's team is so different than last year's team, but I think we have the capability of turning a lot of heads,” Tysk said. “I don't know if people have us on their radar. I don't really care if they do. My guys know that I believe in them, and they believe me.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.


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