Valley baseball team confident it can compete for section title

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Thursday, March 24, 2022 | 5:54 PM


Valley baseball coach Jim Basilone expects the Section 3-3A race to be exciting, and he is confident his team will be among those competing for the title.

The Vikings return five starters from last year’s team that finished 13-8 overall and 6-4 in section play with a win over Mohawk in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Avonworth in the quarterfinals.

“We’re going to have to earn it, but we’re going to be ready, I’ll tell you that,” Basilone said. “Anyone who comes to play us is going to have a battle on their hands because our kids don’t quit. They’re going to work hard to be successful.”

Seniors Ben Aftanas and Isaac Kelley and sophomores Tyler Danko, Jacob Staraniec and Wesley Schrock are the returning starters. Luke Caprino, a senior, will play second base. Freshman Conrad Hoover is competing for a spot in the outfield. Valley has three catchers: senior Brandon John and sophomores Tristan Goodwin and Collin Scholl.

The Vikings have four seniors, seven sophomores and six freshmen.

Kelley and Aftanas are team captains.

Aftanas hit .463 last year and was a Valley News Dispatch first-team all-star.

“Ben will be our leadoff hitter again this year,” Basilone said. “There won’t be a change there. He goes up there and swings. He’s patient, but when it’s there, he’ll take his hacks.”

The Vikings will have to replace reigning Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year John Luke Bailey, who is playing at Mount Aloysius. Bailey went 7-1 with a 1.41 ERA in 55 innings pitched and hit .463, driving in 18 runs.

Basilone has several options to turn to on the mound with three right-handed pitchers — Aftanas, Kelley and Staraniec — and lefties Schrock and Danko.

How the pitching staff will shake out is still to be determined.

“It’s hard to tell because you don’t know who’s going to step up, take the ball and shut teams down for five to seven innings,” Basilone said. “We’ve only had two scrimmages, and each one has pitched no more than two innings. They all look pretty good. It’s hard to say who’s going to be number one and two, but the opportunity is there. We’ll see who steps up and grabs it.”

The Vikings will open the season with a two-game nonsection series with Riverview Monday and Tuesday.

Deer Lakes, Derry, Mt. Pleasant, Ligonier Valley and East Allegheny are in Section 3-3A with Valley. Derry won the section title last year. Valley swept Derry, which were the Trojans’ only two losses in section. The Vikings split with every other team.

“I think it’ll be a well-balanced section,” Basilone said. “Deer Lakes has a lot of players back, and they’re going to be tough. Derry graduated some players, but (John Flickinger) is a very good coach, so I’m sure he’ll have them ready. I think Ligonier Valley has a lot of players back, so they’ll be tough and so will Mt. Pleasant.

East Allegheny always comes in and battles. It doesn’t matter who you play or when you play them, it’s going to be a battle. I’m looking forward to the competition and seeing my seniors lead and my sophomores and freshmen develop and perform.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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