Joe Maize has coached at Peters Township High School long enough to know spring baseball in western Pennsylvania can be like the weather … on again and off again.
“We were on a ballfield doing a scrimmage one day and the next day we had at least eight inches of snow on the ground,” Maize said of the Nor’easter that hit the region on the first day of spring. And to start this week, the Indians played and defeated Chartiers Valley, 6-2, but then the rain came to wash out further action.
So the Indians are headed south to seek the answers to questions regarding league play, which is scheduled to start April 7 with the Class 6-A Section 3 opener at home against Allderdice. Peters Township travels to South Carolina for its annual spring training trip to compete in the Southeastern Baseball Classic to be held April 4-6 in Hartsville.
“Our trip plays an important part in getting us ready for section play,” said Maize.
Away from home, the Indians hope to make decisions about their pitching staff as well as their starting lineup.
Peters Township graduated seven starters from last year’s 14-7 squad that finished runner-up to Canon-McMillan in the section and was eliminated from the WPIAL playoffs by Plum, 7-0. The Indians need to fill eight positions with new players and they have little varsity experience on the mound though they have 10 players who can pitch.
“Even though having that many arms can be a strength,” Maize noted, five of the players have no varsity experience and one has limited time on the mound.
While right-hander Garrett Miller and southpaw Nolan Thompson represent the most of the team’s proficiency on the mound, Andrew Mottolla pitched enough on the varsity level to earn a letter.
“Garrett and Nolan gained valuable experience last year. Each contributed in a positive way,” Maize said.
Senior Jake Keaney along with juniors Tom Colcombe, Jackson McCloskey, Jake Keaney, Mark Edeburn, Joe Ehland and Charlie Hogan experienced success on the junior varsity and ninth grade levels. They are expected to contribute on the mound, too.
“We will have eight players who might be called upon to pitch. They might need to come through for us at the varsity level,” Maize explained. “In order for us to be successful in our section, we are going to have to rely on the pitching staff.”
The Indians will also depend on defense. However, there are holes all over the field and the Indians must fill those vacancies.
According to Maize, Peters will fill eight of the 10 starting positions, including designated hitter, with new starters.
“There is a great deal of competition,” said Maize. “We have seven players who we have a great deal of confidence in who are battling for the four infield positions. We hope to put together a lineup that is not only consistent at the plate but is improved on defense because at all levels last year we made too many errors that forced the pitching staff to get four, five or six outs an inning.”
PT’s defense starts behind the plate, where Colin Caven returns. The starting catcher is a two-year letterwinner. While Dom Campagna can also catch, the junior plays second base, just as Luke Mary does. A senior, Mary is a two-year veteran who can also anchor the outfield in center.
In addition to pitching, Mottolla plays third base, Miller is a designated hitter and McCloskey and Thompson roam the outfield.
While junior Dax Ploskina is listed as a pitcher, the two-year letterwinner should fill the vacancy at shortstop. Senior Kyle Comini, another letterman, plays left field.
Those veterans are being pushed by Tyler Caven (senior second baseman), Tom Colcombe (junior pitcher outfielder), Joe Pisarcik (junior infielder), Matthew Levy (sophomore third baseman), Charles Hogan (junior pitcher/third baseman), Daniel Boehme (sophomore first baseman), Joe Ehland (junior centerfielder), Jake Keaney (senior firstbaseman/pitcher), Mark Edeburn (sophomore, pitcher/third baseman), Andrew Cisney (junior pitcher) and Sam Quinn (junior first baseman).
Ehland had three hits and drove in two runs in the win over CV. Levy had two hits, including a double. Mottola was the winning pitcher.
“Work ethic and hustle so far have been our teams’ strengths,” said Maize. “The team has worked very hard but some of biggest question marks, team offense and pitching in that order, need to be addressed. We hope to put together a lineup that will be consistent at the plate and our success will depend upon how quickly our pitching staff develops.”
While the Indians anticipate being “competitive” in the most competitive section in the WPIAL, they will not enjoy success, says Maize, unless players embrace their roles.
“The success of our team will again be determined by our players realizing that the team goals are more important than any individual goals they may have. This has been a big reason for our success. When we did not make the playoffs, I was not successful in getting everybody to understand this concept. Too many players and their parents were only worried about an individual’s playing time.
“This year’s seniors will need to take the same approach as our seniors did when we were routinely participating in the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs. If they don’t, then we won’t even get out of the section and qualify for the playoffs.”
PT’s baseball tradition is rich. But so is the history of the clubs that compete against the Indians in Section 3.
Eight years ago, the Indians participated in the WPIAL finals and in 2008 they were the WPIAL champions while rival Canon-McMillan went on to win the PIAA title. In 2007, both Peters and Bethel Park battled for the WPIAL championship and Canon-Mac took third. Then in 2006, three Mt. Lebanon, Baldwin and Upper St. Clair made the playoffs with the Blue Devils winning a WPIAL title five years ago. Even last year, C-M made it to the WPIAL semifinals as did Lebo. In 2012, Lebo was in the WPIAL final and Peters was in the 2011 championship. PT also reached the district semifinals with USC in 2010.
“All the teams in our section will be competitive. They are all well-coached, fundamentally sound and disciplined. With the addition of Taylor Allderdice that only strengthens section play,” Maize said.
“As a result, any team has the ability to win the section and any of the teams have the ability to qualify for the playoffs. The section is so strong and competitive that any of the seven teams would be favored to win a title in any other section.”
Maize finished by anointing Canon-McMillan, Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon as the favorites in this year’s section race as they all have quality pitchers and lettermen returning.
“Canon-McMillan,” he concluded, “may have the best team in the WPIAL this year.”
The Indians host the Big Macs in their first encounter at 7 p.m. April 18 at Peterswood Park. The teams meet again May 5.