Underclassmen gain valuable experience for Pine-Richland baseball

Sunday, May 23, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Coming into the season, Pine-Richland baseball had injuries to its top two starting pitchers in West Virginia recruit Tommy Beam and Gabe Mustovic and added a couple more to the injured list just a few games in with shortstop Kyle Kimoto and first baseman Chase Vrabel going down against Seneca Valley.

The aforementioned starters got healthy enough to pitch this spring, and the infielders were down for a significant period of time.

Pine-Richland coach Kurt Wolfe did not let the injuries become an excuse to pack it in, and the Rams embodied that spirit while grinding through adversity but missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. The Rams finished 7-10 but won four of their last seven games.

One positive was that a bevy of younger players got valuable experience, providing potential for a bright future ahead.

“It was tough to lose two guys like Vrabel, our cleanup hitter, and a good on-base guy like Kimoto and two guys that are really good defensively, but you have to find a way,” Wolfe said. “Guys had to step up, and we had to get better as a staff to try and put our guys in the best possible position to succeed. When you have that many arms down and lose two guys in the lineup you have to get creative and focus on what you have and figure out how you can adjust the pieces of the puzzle to be successful.

“Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but we had a lot of guys that are coming back gain great experience. We were happy that we finished strong. Hopefully that carries over to next season.”

Pine-Richland had four juniors (Andy Swartout, Tyler Armstrong, Joseph Connell and Jason Komaromy) and three sophomores (Jacob McGuire, Sam Grana, and Owen Henne) see significant time. A couple of freshman pitchers (Tommy Zimmerman and Reece Rupert) contributed late in the season.

Swartout started 10 games in the outfield. He was scheduled to be a contributor on the mound, but an injury kept him from getting any innings. He’s expected to be a major piece of the pitching staff next year. Armstrong started every game and filled in well at first base in Vrabel’s absence. Connell made 11 starts as a utility man, playing shortstop, third base and outfield. Komaromy made six appearances on the mound.

McGuire started every game and pitched in every section series, emerging as a strong, reliable arm. He also saw time at shortstop, second base and in the outfield. Grana started five games at third base and catcher, and Henne was a mainstay at second base while also getting some innings in relief.

“I think just the experience of being in the environment of playing 6A baseball against teams like North Allegheny, Central Catholic, Butler, Seneca Valley and Allderdice will be huge for us going forward,” Wolfe said. “With Allderdice, Butler and North Allegheny all playing home games under the lights now, that’s something these kids haven’t experienced before.”

Zimmerman pitched in relief in the final section series against North Allegheny, and Rupert started in a nonsection game against Hampton.

“There are two guys that we really like,” Wolfe said. “Both of them are really good arms. They didn’t get as much time as the sophomores and juniors, but they gained some valuable innings that will help them going into next year.”

Though the Rams didn’t get the opportunity to defend their 2019 championship, they had an impressive decade and a half run as a program that regularly contended for titles. They’re looking forward to starting a new streak next year.

“We’ve been blessed for 15 years that we had everything go right for us. This was one of those years where that didn’t happen,” Wofle said. “We always want to lean on the positives, and hopefully our guys understand the opportunities they had to get better and the experience they received. I can tell you we’re already excited to get going next year.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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