Valley baseball looking for fast start in Myrtle Beach
Thursday, March 22, 2018 | 5:00 PM
The Valley baseball team has escaped the grips of the unpredictable March weather in Western Pennsylvania and is opening its season Friday and Saturday with four games at the Cal Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The Vikings departed by bus Wednesday evening after an early-spring storm dumped nearly six inches of snow on the area.
The forecast in Myrtle Beach will have temperatures in the mid to upper 50s with only a small chance of precipitation.
“Last year was the first year we did that,” Valley coach Jim Basilone said. “The weather was great. We're playing on all turf fields, so we won't get canceled because of field conditions.”
Valley is scheduled to play two teams from Philadelphia, a team from Cincinnati and Upper St. Clair.
The game with the Panthers will be at 9 p.m. Friday.
“That game (Upper St. Clair) will be a really good test for us,” Basilone said. “All the games will be.”
The team worked out Thursday in advance of the two games Friday and two more on Saturday.
Last year, Valley went 2-2 at Cal Ripken before heading into a Section 1-3A schedule that saw it earn a spot in the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2008. The team finished 3-7 in section play with a couple of close losses to South Allegheny and a one-run setback to rival Burrell.
“Making it to the playoffs last year helped tremendously with momentum coming into this year,” Basilone said.
Basilone said that this year's group — five seniors, one junior, one sophomore and seven freshmen — has what it takes to make another run at the postseason and go further. The team suffered an 8-0 loss to Brownsville in the first round of the 2017 playoffs.
“They worked really hard in the offseason,” Basilone said. “I have to give a lot of credit to our trainers who helped the players with a lot of strength work, core work. It really helped. I can tell the guys are a lot stronger.”
The team will have to replace a couple of graduation losses, including a Valley News Dispatch second-team all-star in shortstop Jeremy Iellimo.
Basilone said the team will have senior leadership from first-team all-star Jake McNabb at catcher.
McNabb, a Pitt-Bradford recruit, led the Vikings in most offensive categories last year. He hit .404 with six doubles and 14 RBIs.
“We're really excited to get back out there,” McNabb said. “We're working hard and are trying to achieve (a playoff trip) again.”
McNabb said the offseason work brought the players together, from the freshmen newcomers to the senior veterans.
“We grinded it out in the offseason, worked hard and pushed each other,” he said.
Basilone said senior Shawn Demharter will fill several key roles, including on the mound where he was effective in 2017. Demharter also will play infield and outfield.
“There's a lot of versatility in this group,” Basilone said.
Senior Andrew Serakowski begins his second season with the team, and, Basilone said, he is building on the experience gained from his first varsity campaign.
Seniors Dan Antonacci and Nick Houser both hope to have healthy 2018 seasons after they missed last year because of shoulder injuries.
Junior Elijah Ferres is a first baseman and pitcher who got a lot of playing time last year, while sophomore Adam Richardson, returning as an outfielder, will be called upon to contribute more this year.
Basilone said the freshmen — Cadyn Quinn, John Luke Bailey, Evan Henry, Shane Demharter, Cameron George, Justin Hooper and Javon Keys — have battled hard for starting positions at the varsity level.
“The freshmen played well together last year and got good game experience,” Basilone said.
George is the backup catcher to McNabb.
Steel Valley won the section last year with a 10-0 record, and Burrell (7-3) and Shady Side Academy (5-5) grabbed the second- and third-place spots. Basilone said those three will be among the top contenders again this year.
A season sweep of East Allegheny and a key victory over Shady Side propelled Valley into the postseason.
The first game with Burrell will be at home on April 18.
“Burrell is on another level,” said Basilone concerning the rivalry. “I do my best to keep the kids focused going into that game. You don't really have to talk to them about what that game means. We try to help them remember that it's an important game, but they have to treat it like any other in the section.”
Valley's first game after the trip to Myrtle Beach is a nonsection contest at Riverview on Wednesday.
“If we can stay within ourselves and stay away from battling ourselves when we struggle, we should be OK,” Basilone said. “It's the mental approach we want to make stronger this year that should make the difference.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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