Valley baseball winning arms race in season’s opening weeks

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Thursday, April 8, 2021 | 6:09 PM


In 2021, pitching will come at a premium as teams will be forced to dive deep into their rotations for back-to-back section games each week.

While some teams may not have the depth to keep up with the demand, the Valley Vikings (5-1, 2-0) have showcased they’ll have plenty of it this season.

Through six games, senior John Luke Bailey and freshman Tyler Danko have provided the Vikings with a top-of-the-rotation duo that has kept opponents off the basepaths, and most importantly, off of the scoreboard.

“That’s been really vital for us, especially getting key outings out of a freshman,” Valley coach Jim Basilone said.

In their first section matchup with Derry earlier this week, Bailey threw a complete game five-hitter and limited the Trojans to just two runs, which included a seventh-inning home run from Derry’s Elijah Penich that just escaped the yard at Valley.

On Wednesday, Danko gave the Vikings five more big innings in his second start of the season and only allowed four hits while striking out two and allowing one earned run. Senior Shane Demharter came in to pick up the save in the final two innings. He struck out one and allowed three hits.

“Using three pitchers in two days, that’s a dream,” Basilone said.

As the No. 1 starter for the Vikings, Bailey has thrown 19⅓ innings, struck out 27 batters and has allowed only nine earned runs.

Seven of those earned runs came in an 8-1 loss against Highlands in Valley’s first game of the year. Since then, the tall, lanky right-hander has been lights out. In his second start, he threw a five-hit complete game against Leechburg and struck out 13 while walking one.

Basilone said his ace has a different type of confidence this season.

“He’s matured a whole lot since his freshman year, and he wants the ball every day,” Basilone said. “When you want the ball, that says something to a coach.”

After a rough sophomore season, Bailey said he got into the gym and worked hard throughout the offseason to put on a few pounds and get stronger.

“I’ve put on like 20 pounds since last year, and every time I’m out there, I know that I can put the ball by people,” the 6-foot-3 Bailey said. “I know when I throw strikes, there are going to be outs.”

Coming into this season, Basilone said he knew what he was going to have with Bailey. He also isn’t surprised by the performance of Danko. The freshman has been playing fall ball with Basilone for the past two years and the coach said that he’s been impressed by Danko all along.

“I saw what I could get out of him then,” Basilone said.

In his two outings, Danko has only allowed one earned run and has struck out nine in 10 innings. He also threw a five-inning no-hitter against Leechburg on March 30.

Danko said he didn’t expect to have this much success at the varsity level, deflecting credit to his teammates.

“I’ve just been throwing strikes and letting my defense do the work behind me, really,” Danko said.

It doesn’t stop with Danko and Bailey. Demharter has contributed early on this season, and junior Ben Aftanas also threw a one-hitter against Springdale in a 14-0 victory March 29.

As a freshman, Cayden Quinn was the ace of the staff, but with the plethora of arms that the Vikings have this year, the senior switched positions and has taken over the catching duties. So, even if he finds himself in a tough spot, Basilone knows he has guys to lean on.

“That’s huge for us because now you have two or three a night that you can throw in there,” Basilone said. “If someone has a bad game or the ball just doesn’t feel right to them that night, we have someone else that we can put in there, and that’s huge.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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