Young Township seeking return to American Legion league regionals

Monday, June 17, 2024 | 2:01 PM

The Young Township Renegades are off to a solid start in District 31 American Legion baseball. Starting the season with a 3-2-1 record, they could be on track to compete for a postseason berth. However, Young Township is not just hoping to make the playoffs.

Young Township manager Ryan Staats has high goals for his team. He expressed a desire to qualify for the regional tournament in his third year of coaching.

Young Township made the playoffs in the first two years under Staats, and the team made the finals and qualified for the regional tournament his first year.

“The goals are to (at least) improve from last year to get back to the final four. Hempfield East beat us so we couldn’t get in the semifinals,” Staats said.

At the plate, Young Township has several players with exceptional batting averages who also can swing for the fences, with 12 players returning from last year’s team.

Second baseman Chase Jablonski, first baseman Roger Wright, left fielder Colin Saxion and pitcher Max Long are batting over .400.

Catcher Spencer Sells has shown the ability to hit gaps and is promising to become a key power hitter.

“Jablonski is the type of kid that can do anything; he can play anywhere. He’s batting over .700. (Haden) Brink is one of the top players in the league,” Staats said. “Max Long has impressed me as a very versatile player. Caden Rupert and Brink have huge upside at the plate. Brink is only a pitcher in college, so he’s trying to get his swing back.”

Rupert and Brink are returning from a year in college.

Brink, one of the team’s leading pitchers, completed his freshman year at Enterprise State Community College in Enterprise, Ala.

“Having Brink back is phenomenal. He has big goals. I’ve never seen a kid work so hard. At shortstop, he can throw 90 (mph) across the diamond,” Staats said. “He can hit 93-94 (mph pitching), and we can make regionals because I feel like we have 8-9 arms that we can put on the mound.”

With Long and Brink leading the way, the Renegades also have strong, young depth pieces that can get outs when needed. Ryan Waugamen from Armstrong, one of those young pitchers, has thrown 10 scoreless innings.

“They’ve done extremely well,” Staats said. “I’ve seen my younger guys throw. They’ve all really impressed me. Walks are an issue because a lot of the runs this season have been via the walks.”

The Young Township player base was expanded to all Armstrong area schools, increasing the pool for the Renegades from around 18,000 to 34,000 potential players.

Also, players from Young Township have gone on to have successful college careers. Most notably, Brady Yard, first baseman for IUP, played a crucial role in the Crimson Hawks making a historic run to the NCAA Division II World Series semifinals.

Though Staats has confidence in his personnel, a District 31 title for Young Township is not a guarantee. The Renegades lost to Somerset in both games of a doubleheader, and the quality of play around the league in general has gotten significantly better.

“The league is extremely competitive this year, the most I’ve seen it, with 14 teams in the league. I think American Legion baseball is growing. We’re getting more local players to continue playing local baseball,” Staats said.

The standings are not in the forefront of the team’s mind, considering the young nature of the season. Young Township is in the East division, with the top two teams from its division and the West automatically qualifying for the postseason. The next four teams with the best record, regardless of division, advance to the playoffs, making eight teams in total.

Latrobe is at the top of the standings, and Somerset has really impressed me,” Staats said. “It’s going to be a dogfight as we come down the stretch.”

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