Western Pa. Baseball League gives Summer Rams seniors last chance to take field together

Friday, June 26, 2020 | 2:00 PM

Highlands baseball coach Jeff Campbell was heartbroken knowing his players were not going to have their high school season when schools were shut down in late March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The disappointment continued when the American Legion season was scrapped.

But when the Western Pennsylvania Baseball League was formed earlier this month, that Golden Rams group, including four seniors, got a chance to be together this summer.

“Everyone is just glad to have the chance to be out here playing baseball with their friends,” said Campbell, who assembled the group known as the Summer Rams. “It was great of those guys who were able to put this together.”

With numerous underclassmen returning to next year’s high school team, Campbell said having the players together is beneficial in gaining experience.

The Summer Rams are in a division with the Independent Players — made up of players from Freeport, Fox Chapel, Burrell, Valley, North Allegheny and St. Joseph — as well as teams with players from Kiski Area, Gateway, Plum, Franklin Regional and Jeannette. The regular season is scheduled to end July 24, with a postseason tournament to follow.

“When we heard about this league, we all hopped on it,” said Matt Cekada, one of the four seniors along with Tom Bender, Chase Godfrey and Michael Magdinec. “It’s kind of a last chance for us seniors, I guess. We all just tried to keep our skills up and stay ready if something like this came along.”

The Summer Rams defeated the Independent Players, 4-3, in their opener Wednesday night. The team, minus its seniors, got up to speed at the Atlantic Coast Baseball Open II on June 12-14, going 2-2 to earn a top-five finish in the 16-team field.

“We hadn’t practiced much,” Campbell said. “We had gotten on the field once or twice before the tournament, but for not being together since the beginning of March, they did so well.”

The Summer Rams were paced by the pitching of Bielak, Jimmy Kunst, Tanner Nulph, Jett Slepak and Ethan Hewitt and the offense from Mason McGraw, Slepak, Seth Helgert, Kunst, Jacob Arner and Luke Beer.

“It was nice to be back on the field as a team,” said Bielak, who also is rostered to the Independent Players headed by Valley coach Jim Basilone. “It was a good challenge for us because we were up against a lot of AAU travel teams from different states. The first game, we had to get the rust off, and we didn’t do well. After that, we started to figure it out. It was a good start to help us get ready for this summer season and next year.”

The Highlands players also welcomed recent St. Joseph graduate and Saint Vincent commit Dom Fellows. Fellows originally planned to play for Dave Kirilloff’s Baseball 19 travel team, but when that season was canceled, it left Fellows looking for a team.

“All the guys are cool, and I like coach Campbell, so it’s going pretty well,” Fellows said.

He matched up against fellow St. Joseph standouts Tyler Wood and Hayden Mullin in Wednesday’s game with the Independent Players.

The Summer Rams were led in that game by the pitching of Slepek and Nulph, who also provided three run-scoring hits.

Slepek didn’t allow a hit through three innings and ended up surrendering a total of two hits and one earned run while striking out five. Nulph struck out nine over four innings and overcame a rocky sixth inning to strike out the side in the seventh and close the victory.

“We don’t have as much pressure on us because we are a young team, but I think we will compete well,” Nulph said. “The more reps we get, the better we’ll be.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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