By Pete Chiodo
March 30, 2013 7:00 a.m. —
It would appear as if the planets have all aligned for the Saegertown baseball team this season. The program’s talented crew of ball players returns largely intact after last year’s 23-2 campaign, which saw the Panthers win a District 10 Class AA title and advance all the way to the state quarterfinal round.
However, the Panthers have already learned that nothing is going to be handed to them this year. They picked up that lesson during a trip to South Carolina last weekend, which started with an 8-0 loss to Triple-A program South Park, and then followed with an 11-7 defeat to WPIAL Quad-A team Taylor Allderdice.
Granted, those two games were the first outdoor action the Panthers had had since last year. And, it came not long after a 10-hour bus ride from Pennsylvania. So the team wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. And, indeed, once the Panthers settled in a couple days later they went on to spank fellow D-10 school Hickory 19-1.
By that point, though, the message had already been delivered to Saegertown head coach Tim Crum and his squad: If they want to accomplish anything this season, they are going to have to work for it.
“Getting your (posterior) handed to you is not always a bad thing,” said Crum.
“These kids are not used to losing a lot. They’ve had a heck of a lot of success. And losing is not an easy pill to swallow. I think it showed them that they have to get focused. It’s not going to be a cakewalk for Saegertown this season, either. Not only do the Panthers have eight games in Region 3 to contend with; they’ve also got a tough non-region slate, with games scheduled against various Triple-A programs like McDowell, Cathedral Prep and Meadville.
“We made the schedule a little stronger this year,” said Crum. “We’ve got McDowell twice, Cathedral Prep once. CASH is Triple-A program now. We’ve got Meadville twice. … And we’re going to to see if can pick up another game against some other bigger school, get some stronger competition, even if it’s Allderdice again.”
Last season, Saegertown won a dozen or so games by 10 runs or more. This year’s schedule was designed to ensure that Saegertown comes to play or it gets another bitter pill to swallow.
“We’re in a pretty good position as far as hitting and pitching and catching,” said Crum. “Now we have to get everything in motion and start executing.”
Svirbly takes over for Cards
John Svirbly should already be a familiar figure to Cochranton fans. He’s spent the last seven seasons as the head coach for the Cardinals wrestling program. And for the past three years he’s been the assistant coach for the baseball team.
Now, the baseball team is his. He takes over for former head coach Jason Barber, who guided the team for three seasons before moving back to his hometown in Columbus, Ohio.
Under Barber, Cochranton went from a two-win program in 2010 to a playoff team last season. Svirbly took over in hopes of continuing that upward momentum.
“Jason Barber taught me a lot,” said Svirbly. “I felt like I was ready to take over. He had a great program going and I didn’t want to change it. They were catching on, so I’m trying to keep things going that same direction.”
Svirbly filled out his coaching staff with former Cochranton players Mikel Boughner and Matt Shreve.
Together, they going to try to turn the Cardinals into a contender in Region 3. And they’ve got the tools to do it, returning one of the top arms in the county in Ryan Northcott, a seasoned catcher in Caleb Peterson and one of the best young bats in the county in Jesse Staudt.
“It will be exciting once we get started,” Svirbly said. “We’re pretty strong defensively. Offensively we’re coming along. There are not too many holes in the lineup.”
Frazier changes plans
Cambridge Springs was blessed with some pretty good pitching depth this season, thanks to some returning arms and a couple promising freshman joining the team.
That had head coach Paul Frazier considering abandoning the Spa’s longtime method of pitching by committee every game — having guys pitch just two or three innings before replacing them to save their arms and eligibility for the next contest.
“It’s always been a thing with Cambridge pitchers, we pitch by committee,” said Frazier. “But it’s been hard to get a pitcher to get into it. I wanted to change that mindset so that they’re out there and they are pitching for the win instead of going out there and pitching for two innings.
“That’s what I was hoping to do. Mother nature isn’t cooperating right now.”
With spring’s snowy start, Frazier, and many other area coaches, are expecting this season to get pretty compressed with games being scheduled back-to-back-to-back during the warmer, drier stretches.
That means ready arms are going to be needed. So, the Blue Devils might have to go back to its committee approach on the mound.
“With the weather the way it’s been, once we do start playing it’s going to be four games a week,” said Frazier. “So we’ll probably be back to pitching by committee. It’s a matter of keeping them healthy. We’ll need them for a whole season, not just for one game.
“So, it’s up in the air. Once the season gets going, we’ll see how we do it.”
Tigers might travel
This wintery March weather also has Maplewood thinking about changing some plans — travel plans, that is.
“We’re already three games behind,” said Tigers head coach Robert Finkbeiner. “We have a game April 1 at Eisenhower. That’s probably not going to happen. We have a game against Meadville on April 4, and that’s doubtful.
“Our field probably won’t be ready for a month,” he added. “We’re supposed to be going to West Middlesex April 6. That one, we might be able to play. I’m guessing we will get that game in. But we’ll need to have three or four days of sunshine and wind to get our field dried out.”
Finkbeiner thinks that his team may have to spend the better part of its season on the road just to get its games in.
“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we have to play some of home games away like we did two years ago,” he said. “We played our home game against Conneaut Lake at Conneaut Lake. We had a home game at Linesville two years ago as well.”