Valley’s John Luke Bailey chosen as Valley News Dispatch Baseball Player of the Year

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Saturday, June 26, 2021 | 11:15 PM


2021 Valley News Dispatch Baseball All-Stars

Player of the Year

John Luke Bailey

Valley, Sr., P

Valley senior pitcher John Luke Bailey came into his final high school baseball season motivated.

After a sophomore season where he didn’t necessarily perform to the standards he wanted to, he got to work in both the weight room and on the field. Then, after the coronavirus pandemic took away his junior year, Bailey continued to work.

He wanted to prove to himself that he could pitch at a high level and all of his hard work paid off this past season.

“I’ve always had people tell me that I have the frame (to be good at pitching) and I had decent years as a freshman and sophomore,” Bailey said. “But this year I was like, ‘OK, I have a good catcher, I have a good defense, and I put in all this work.’ So, it was time to put up or shut up, and every single time I took the field this year, my confidence grew more and more.”

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander led the Valley Vikings both on the mound and at the plate.

As the ace of the pitching staff, Bailey went 7-1 with a 1.41 ERA in 55 innings while striking out 65 batters and holding his opponents to a .203 batting average. He didn’t lose a section game.

He was just as good at the plate, hitting .463 and tying junior third baseman Ben Aftanas with a team-high 18 RBIs. Bailey tallied 31 hits, nine doubles, one triple and one home run.

“You could ask all of my teammates. Any time that I had the ball, I knew that no one was touching me,” Bailey said. “That’s how I felt in our playoff game. I wish I could’ve pitched in our second playoff game. I wish I could’ve pitched in every game. I felt every single time that I was on the mound, I had an advantage over the hitter.”

After suffering a loss to Highlands, his only setback of the year, in his first start of the season, Bailey pitched three straight complete games and allowed 12 hits while striking out 28 and only allowing two earned runs.

He threw two more complete games the rest of the season, and one came in a crucial 4-1 section win over Deer Lakes, where he allowed four hits and struck out eight.

The Mt. Aloysius recruit capped off his senior season by earning the win in a 5-1 first round playoff victory over Mohawk where he struck out seven and allowed five hits in a 6.1 innings.

For his efforts, Bailey has been named the Valley News Dispatch Baseball Player of the Year.

After a year off, how did it feel to put together the year that you did?

That year off kind of helped in a way. I was kind of burnt out because I was playing all the time, but that break during the spring and summer, it kind of just took my mind off of it. It was good for me to take a few months away from the field, but for me to come back and play like this, it was great. I didn’t think that I would miss a beat, but I didn’t think I would come back this strong. I put in so much work, and I’m happy that it worked out. To have such a successful season, I’m so happy.

You capped off your pitching season with a win in the playoffs. How much did that win mean to you?

That was probably my favorite game I’ve ever played in my life. That game was just perfect. It was so competitive. It was such a pitchers’ battle. The defense was great. It was so great because I reached my pitch limit then fielded the last ground ball and threw the kid out at first to end the game. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end it. That was probably a top three playing moment for me in my entire career.

Was there a moment where you felt everything come together this season?

Our first section game against Derry (a 3-2 win), then again when I beat Deer Lakes. When I beat Deer Lakes, they were the No. 1 team in the section. I was like, ‘OK, I’m the best pitcher in the section, I can put it by hitters, and I can go win a playoff game.’ Especially even hitting wise. I was seeing the ball like a watermelon.

You started off the season with a loss to Highlands, which was your only one of the year. Was it difficult to bounce back from that?

I hated that the season started like that, but I couldn’t be that upset about it either. I looked at my stat line and I pitched 5.1 innings, struck out nine, and although I gave up a decent amount of earned runs, I knew that I was better than that and that was one of the best teams that we played all year. So, I honestly wasn’t too upset with it because I knew that that team was going to prepare me for all the teams that we were going to play.

What was working at the plate for you this season?

It was just a big timing thing for me this year. I mean people tell me to go deep into counts and work the pitcher and try to get the pitcher’s pitch count up, but I’ve never really been that way. If I see a fastball down the middle, I’m swinging at it. I think I have a pretty good eye too, and I saw a lot of fastballs and I knew I had to capitalize on them. I was also hitting the breaking ball well too.

How do you balance double-duty, hitting and pitching, during some games?

I feel like I need to be engaged in the game a little, and I don’t know if it really makes any sense, but I think my defense helps my offense. So, when I am doing good on the mound, I say to myself, ‘All right, I’m already doing well at this part, so let’s get this part down.’ It’s easier said than done, but that’s how I saw it this year.

Who was the toughest batter you faced this season?

I think it was Josh Ulery from Derry. I don’t know what his stats were against us, but he was one of the toughest hitters we faced. He just puts the bat on the ball, and it doesn’t come off soft. He’s going to hit the ball hard. He definitely smokes the ball.

What was your favorite pitch to throw this year?

I’d have to say my curveball just because it got me out of so much. I threw so many. It was like my baby this year. It worked so well. I had the bases loaded in that playoff game, and I threw it in a 3-2 count down and away and got the strikeout.

What would your walk-up song be?

I’d probably go with A-Team by Travis Scott

If you could have dinner with three people, who would they be?

Andrew McCutchen, my great grandpa, Walter Ellsworth, and then Mike Trout.

FIRST TEAM

Ben Aftanas

Valley, Jr., 3B/P

Aftanas did it all for the Vikings this season. He played an excellent third base, contributed on the mound and hit for a .444 batting average while tying for the team lead with 18 RBIs. He also scored 23 runs and stole 17 bases.

Justin Brannagan

Deer Lakes, Jr., P/OF

The junior hurler was the ace on the mound for the Lancers, producing an ERA of 1.37 in 51 innings while only allowing 10 earned runs and striking out 57 batters. He also hit for a .375 average with 13 RBIs and 21 hits.

Dante DiMatteo

Fox Chapel, Sr., P/OF

As a key piece of Fox Chapel’s success, DiMatteo was big on the mound. He produced a 1.95 ERA and struck out 79 batters in 43 innings. He threw 13 consecutive innings of no-hit ball at one point. He also hit for a .373 average and drove in 15 runs.

Thomas Koch

Fox Chapel, Sr., IF

The Foxes’ leading hitter, Koch tallied a .439 batting average with 25 hits, five doubles and one home run. He also recorded 14 RBIs, scored 16 runs and drew a team-high 16 walks.

DJ Loveland

Highlands, Sr., OF

A spark plug on the basepaths, Loveland stole 18 bases, hit for a .400 batting average with 26 hits and also tallied 11 RBIs. He played a solid left field for the Golden Rams as well.

Nate McMasters

Plum, Sr., OF

In his senior season, McMasters hit for a .417 average, tallied 20 hits, drove in 12 runs and hit 10 doubles. He also hit a triple and a home run while leading the Mustangs to a No. 5 seed in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

Tanner Nulph

Highlands, Jr., P/SS

The Golden Rams leaned on Nulph down the stretch and he delivered. He produced a 1.25 ERA in 44.2 innings while striking out 73 batters and only allowing eight earned runs. Nulph also hit for a .305 average and tallied 18 hits.

Jacob Patterson

Fox Chapel, Jr., SS/P

Hitting for a .371 average, Patterson came up big for the Foxes throughout this season, driving in 13 runs while smacking seven doubles and two triples. He was also Fox Chapel’s No. 2 on the mound, throwing 34.2 innings while striking out 27.

Jett Slepak

Highlands, Jr., P/IF

The Golden Rams’ top-hitter, Slepak hit for a .410 batting average, drove in 12 runs, tallied 25 hits and hit seven doubles. He also produced a 2.81 ERA in 37.1 innings while striking out 50 and allowing 15 earned runs.

Colin Solinski

Plum, Jr., P/1B

With a .419 average and a 1.94 ERA, Solinski led the Mustangs on the mound and at the plate. He tallied 13 hits, two doubles, three triples and nine RBIs. In 21.2 innings of work, he struck out 20 and only allowed six earned runs.

SECOND TEAM

Ryan Aber, Riverview, Sr., 3B

Shane Demharter, Valley, Sr., SS/P

Brayden Hageter, Knoch, Sr., P

Derek Hald, Kiski Area, Sr., C

Silvio Ionadi, Plum, Jr., IF

Jimmy Kunst, Highlands, So., IF/P

Owen McDermott, Leechburg, So., SS/P

Cayden Quinn, Valley, Sr., C

Bradey Schrock, Apollo-Ridge, Jr., 1B/3B

Vince Shook, Riverview, Jr., P

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