With solid underclassmen group, Kiski Area baseball team builds toward future

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Thursday, March 17, 2022 | 6:45 PM


When Aaron Albert started coaching at Beaver six years ago, he had a lineup featuring eight sophomores.

That team won a WPIAL championship two years later.

Fast forward to present day and Albert finds himself in a similar situation entering his fourth year with the Kiski Area baseball team.

The Cavaliers will feature a lineup of underclassmen, but the expectation is to develop and compete in their final year in Class 5A before dropping down a classification in 2023.

“On a given day we’re going to start five to six sophomores,” Albert said. “In a 5A conference that has teams with a lot of returners, it’s not going to be easy. These sophomores and juniors will be better off for the playing time they get when we drop down to 4A next year.

“This isn’t a new thing for me. Some days we’re going to look great, and other days we’ll take our lumps. Luckily, I’ve been a part of that process before and, from a head coaching perspective, I’m in a good place to help those guys and keep them level each day.”

Kiski Area finished last season 5-10-1 overall and 2-7 in Section 1-5A.

Three seniors return in Anthony DePanicis, an honorable mention all-conference infielder, Mason Ross and Owen Werkheiser. Ross will play third base, and Werkheiser is penciled in as the right fielder but is working through some injuries with the hope of being ready for the first game March 25, a nonsection meeting with Butler.

The group of sophomores includes Jake Smith (pitcher), Blake Fritz (outfielder), Carter Leviski (catcher) and Nate Witt (shortstop). Leviski could see some time on the mound as well.

Albert said each one has the potential to play in college.

“Jake, Blake and Carter are all big strong guys that show up well at showcases, but I think when it’s all set and done, Nate will have just as many looks as the other three when it comes to playing at the next level,” Albert said.

Jake Smith will pair with Lebryn Smith at the top of the rotation. Junior lefty Josh Ardellitz also will see time on the mound.

Other juniors in the lineup are Dom DiNinno, Jake Bucci and Connor Flemm. Bucci will hit cleanup and play first base.

The Cavaliers are in a loaded section with defending WPIAL champ Franklin Regional, Latrobe, Penn-Trafford, McKeesport and Gateway. Latrobe and Penn-Trafford each won a playoff game last season.

“I’m good friends with (Franklin Regional) coach Bobby (Saddler), and last year they had the best lineup I’ve ever had to go against,” Albert said. “They don’t necessarily rebuild. They reload. They have five to six kids that played a part in what they did last year, so they’ll be tough again. Penn-Trafford returns a bunch, and I’ll be honest, Latrobe hits better than anyone and they return seven or eight of their hitters. So yeah, it’s not going to be easy.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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