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Area baseball teams seek sustained success

It was a stellar spring for many area baseball teams a season ago. A number of area programs appear primed to continue that trend on the diamond this year.



… The Olympians will depend heavily on their seniors in Owen Hubbard, Matt Domski and Jack Edwards. A young squad, Thorpe does not return many players who played varsity innings last season. Juniors Nik Schwartz and sophomore Cole Lazorick will also be relied on heavily to make an impact.


… Thorpe has some talent in the younger ranks, and will need those players to step in and carve out roles as the season moves forward. Sophomores Michael Antignani, Logan O’Connor, Josh Louk, Noah Pastor, junior Tanner MoDavis and freshman Brody Schrantz will all see playing time for the Olympians this season.


… Edwards returns with the most experience from the mound, pitching 12.1 innings for Thorpe last season. Schwartz will also be counted on to give the Olympians some significant innings “Edwards and Schwartz will be counted on to lead our rotation this season. After that, we will be looking for some other players to emerge. What is nice about our team, it’s that pretty much everybody can pitch. We have some talented arms and some strong arms, but those guys just lack experience right now. So, we will take it day by day and see who emerges for us.” – Jim Thorpe head coach Joe Marykwas.


… Lazorick (.467 in seven games, seven hits), Schwartz (.321, 17 hits, 14 RBIs) and Edwards (10 hits, five RBIs) are going to need to set the tone for the Olympians from the plate. “Lazorick really came on for us later in the season as a freshman and hit the ball well,” said Marykwas. “And then we’re going to be depending on three-year starters in Schwartz and Edwards to give us quality at-bats throughout the season. For the younger guys, again, it’s all about getting them varsity at bats, so they can get better and get more confident.”



… The Indians return a solid core this season, led by Aiden Rarick, (.403, 29 hits, 22 RBIs) who led the Tribe in runs scored, doubles, triples, and RBIs. John Light (.354, 17 hits), Brady O’Donnell (.324, 23 hits, 18 RBIs), Adam Bastone (.302, 16 hits, 13 RBIs), Noah Barndt (19 hits, 15 RBIs), Micheal Yeakel (14 hits), Carter Birnbaum and Dawson Keiser all return as well. Other returning players include Aidan Albert, Jake Lewis, Derek Behler, Cole Dietz and Jayse Lawrence. “The offseason workouts, and the commitment from the kids has been outstanding. Last year we finished 13-8 and 8-4 in the league, and earned a trip to the district playoffs. We have lots of competition at all of our positions that will make all the kids work harder in practice to earn playing time.” – Lehighton head coach J.C. Dietz.


… Birnbaum and Keiser return with experience for the Indians. Keiser pitched 28.1 innings last season, while Birnbaum pitched 21.2 innings a season ago with 24 strikeouts. Lewis, Aidan Albert, O’Donnell and Dietz will also see time on the mound this season.


… Some fresh faces that will also be in contention for playing time for the Indians are Aiden Solt, Brady Stubits, Konnor Nalesnik, and Cody Snyder.


… Lehighton is already off to a good start this season at 2-0. The Indians have defeated Palmerton 7-1 and Northern Lehigh 10-2. “In our first two games we have gotten some great pitching from a bunch of guys. Our hitters have also been doing an excellent job of running up the pitch counts. We have also been aggressive on the base paths. We know how tough our division is and the challenges ahead, but our goal is to keep playing small ball and throw strikes,” said Dietz.



... The Colts always seem to find a way to compete and win baseball games under manager Tony Radocha, a junkie when it comes to the sport. Marian may not get out of the batters box early, but in time it competes and works its way into contention.


... The Schuylkill League Division III race looks more like a two-team run, with three-time defending champs Panther Valley getting an early nod with a strong pitching department on the bump. Marian will be neck-and-neck for sure. The lone dark horse Shenandoah Valley is a question mark.


... This edition of the Colts will be better mainly because a half-dozen players are back to fill the nine positions. A season ago, the Colts twisted and turned their way to a 13-10 record en route to capturing a District 11 Class A championship, defeating arch rival Nativity to win the gold medal. They lost to Dock Mennonite in the first round of the PIAA tournament.


... These names are familiar, from one of the top league pitchers in Brain Hinkle, the horse Michael Gelatko at the hot corner, sturdy and very dependable catcher Lachlan Segedy, slick infielder Dylan Zullo at shortstop, dual position player Cole DeFrancisco, who as a freshman was a star when called on to pitch, and athletic senior outfielder Brandon Klitsch.


... Radocha has his arms wide open to welcome a band of newbies. There’s Rocco Griguoli, Noah Bauder, Jacob Berlanda (P), Nate Davidovich (OF/P), Chase Grier (C/ OF/P), Cory Nolasco OF/P), Bruce Hopeck (P), and John Deer (IF,P).


... Marian has opened the season and Radocha is already feeling strong about this band of diamonds in the rough. “We have a youth movement, sprinkled with some veteran leadership which we hope will sustain some early growing pains,” he said. “During the offseason, we focused on the little things and they are paying dividends. This team has a high baseball IQ, coupled with our athleticism which we hope will translate to on field success. Pitching depth is a minor concern until we can get into the swing of the season. The goal is to compete day in and day out and hope to be playing meaningful baseball into May. Schuylkill League baseball is one of the most competitive in the state and we look forward to the competition.”


... Tony Radocha’s staff includes JR Graver, Pilsey Petrilyak, Pete Radocha, Brian Rubasky, Jay Grant, Mark Lazar, and Keith Segedy.



... Northern Lehigh head coach Gerald Kresge and his team had a busy and productive offseason. “We had a fantastic offseason, and truly have an amazing group of young men that are dedicating themselves to being better both on and off the field,” said Kresge. “Our offseason began immediately after the season. Many of our players would work out with my Line Drive team throughout the summer and maybe for the first time ever we had a fall team that entered the league at the Big Show Complex in Leesport. Another initiative I found important to our future was to open up to our middle school players. At times there were more middle school players than high school and that is a positive sign for the future. We will incorporate them more in the future.”


... Kresge has liked the commitment and leadership qualities his squad has shown, from underclassmen to upperclassmen. “We have some very young talent coming up that could allow us to be competitive in the next few years,” he said. “Much of that youth we will ask to play a major part in our season. However, one individual sticks out and he is entering his senior season this year. His name is Brayden Tocci. Where he started to where he is entering this season is impressive. He brings an attitude that influences all players in the organization. He dedicates, works and most importantly holds himself accountable to becoming better. I hope that this type of behavior is infectious and helps mold the future. This group is a pleasure to coach, it’s drama-free, and it’s all for the TEAM. Our lineup has some senior leadership, but our pitching rotation will be anchored by underclassmen. I believe our strength is our defense; we have worked extremely hard to improve and early on it looks to be our strength. Our successes will be determined by how we improve at the plate and how many strikes our staff throws.”


... Look for Brayden Tocci (left field, senior), Nic Buskirk (shortstop, senior), Brayden Buskirk (catcher, sophomore), Conner Simms (third base, junior) and newcomer Parker Schaeffer to contribute this season. Other members of the squad include Christopher Vargos (second base, sophomore), Reese Lipsky (right field, senior), Jack Tosh (center field, senior), Jackson Van Norman (first base, senior), Landon Rosado (first base, sophomore), Brendon Hill Geake (right field, senior), Conner Martinez (third base, senior), Trent Richardson (catcher, junior), Nathaniel Kuhns (first base, senior), Landon Cougle, Jayden Christman, Coy Daubert and Brody Sterner.


... “We don’t speak of wins and loses, we speak about competing,” said Kresge. “We are still instituting the CORE Values of the program. We believe that when players begin to do all the details properly and are accountable to themselves and one another wins and accolades follow. When that occurs is yet to be determined. Simply our goal this season is to be competitive each and every day.”



… The Tigers lost just two players – Sam Mauro and Wesley George - from last year’s team. This year, the Tigers have five seniors and six juniors, and enter into the season as one of the favorites in the Colonial League. Last year’s squad went 11-6 in the league and reached the league semifinals, where they lost to top-seeded Bangor 7-6, and also went to the district semifinals, where they were eliminated by Saucon Valley in a 4-2 loss. “I think the team chemistry is there, and we have really grown as a team over the past couple of months. We only lost two guys from last season, so we are all familiar with each other and I think the team chemistry is definitely there. I think we have the potential to be a top competitor in the league,” said Bob Croneberger.


… Brian Polaha takes over the helm after the exit of Chad Cooperman, who was there for two seasons. Before coaching the Northern Yankees in the Blue Mountain League, Polaha headed up Lehighton’s baseball program and won a district championship with the Indians in 2010, and also took the team to the district finals again in 2012. A number of the current Tigers have played for Polaha in the BML and are familiar with him, but there is still a lot that the players and new coach have to learn about each other. “I’ve been getting to know these guys and find out more about them, and I have pretty high expectations for them. I’m getting ready for the season to begin and see what we can do,” said Polaha.


… Polaha had a conversation with his players and asked whether it was a good or bad thing that the team comes in favored to win the Colonial League and potentially districts. Some answered good and some answered bad; hit the buzzer, because neither is the correct answer. “We had a conversation, and I asked all of the seniors about the expectations of us coming in first, and asked them if they thought that was good or bad. The truth is that the correct answer is that it doesn’t matter because these games are won and lost on the field,” he said. “We have a lot of our players back, and we have a lot of depth and I feel better about this team than any other team I have coached in high school, but in the end I don’t get to bat or field ground balls or pitch, so they have to get the job done.”


… Northwestern dropped a pair on non-league games to open the season, falling to Freedom and Blue Mountain. On Wednesday, the Tigers started the Colonial League portion of their schedule and downed Northern Lehigh 14-8. Junior Josh Farber leads the team in hitting with a .429 (3-for-7) average, and is tied with Croneberger for the team lead in RBIs with three. The bats may be waiting for warmer weather because the team is batting just .259 overall.



... Palmerton head coach Tyler Svetik was pleased with the effort and work from his squad to be prepared for the spring. “Solid offseason. Good amount of guys played ball this offseason,” Svetik said. “That’s one area I think we could see improvements with still. We started indoor workouts on Sundays back in December. As always, we had great turnouts as the interest in baseball in Palmerton is there. We got outside as much as possible as the turf football field helps in that area. I don’t know that anyone specifically stood out, but there were returning players from the program last year that got better overall. Guys came in stronger and more physically mature from last spring.”


... The Bombers have to replace six starters due to graduation, something that will create opportunities for those on this year’s squad. “Our guys have been working hard since Day 1,” said Svetik. “There is a ton of playing time available and the best will play. We are looking for production and guys that will grind it out and compete for seven innings. It may take us three games or 13 games to figure out who we are. The quicker we do that and come together as a team, the more success we will have.”


... Despite the losses, Svetik knows this squad will be ready to step up and take charge. “We graduated more production than most, but that means it’s time for others to step up and establish themselves,” he said. “We have five sophomores rostered and they will be leaned on to produce at times. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us or cut us a break because we have mostly a whole new team. We need to learn as we go and grow throughout the season. We have a lot of versatility in the field which should be a strength of ours. The lineup may change game to game or stay the same, I don’t really know. That is going to be for the players to decide and who takes a hold of certain spots. The rotation returns some experience as four key pitchers are back. Two are injured to start the year so again, guys need to step up.”


... Returnees Jacob Grammes (Sr. INF/P), Cameron Pengelly (Soph. INF/P), Brayden Hosier (Sr. OF/INF/P), Trevor Stroup (Sr. C/P) and Derek King (Jr. UTIL/P) will be leaned on this season, as will newcomers AJ Borger (Jr. OF/P), Mason George (Jr. INF/P), Jason Carrelli (Soph. INF) and Brady Reph (Soph. UTIL/P).


... “We want to play our brand of baseball which is grinding teams out until they break and being aggressive,” Svetik said. “We don’t want to sit back and let things happen, we want to make them happen. If we buy in and worry about taking care of the job at hand each pitch, we should be in a position to compete for postseason play. Our goal is to play our best baseball at the end of the season when we will hopefully be playing postseason baseball.”



… Coming off a 21-3 season (runner-up in Schuylkill League, lost to ACC in District 11 3A semis) the Panthers did lose some key pieces, but also return six starters. Seniors Stephen Hood, Chase Weaver, Tyler Black, Drew Kokinda, Hayden Goida and sophomore Brody Breiner were all vital to Panther Valley’s success last season. Hood (.463 BA, 27 RBIs, five HR), Breiner (.448 BA, 21 RBIs), Weaver (.360 BA, 27 hits), Black (.360 BA, 11 RBIs), Goida (.286 BA, 20 RBIs) and Kokinda (.304 BA, 17 hits) bring both experience and productivity at the plate. “Returning this core group of seniors is huge for us this season. We lost four starters, three of which are now playing Division 2 baseball. Some of the guys that we lost; they’re impossible to replace, but we have guys that we know can count on and depend on. We have a good mix of guys with both talent and high baseball IQ.” – Panther Valley head baseball coach Rich Evanko.


… The Panthers also have a new group of players coming into the fold that are expected to make an impact as well. Juniors Logan Fisher, Conner Penberth, Brady Jones, Brennan Kunkel and sophomore Danny Wehr all will see playing time this season. “We really like the new guys who have a chance to step in and make a difference for us. Whoever those next guys are during the course of a game, we need them to come in and fill a role and then understand that role,” said Evanko.


… The top of the rotation will feature aces Hood and Black. Last season, Hood went 5-2, pitching a team-leading 53 innings with a 1.45 ERA and 85 strikeouts. Black was third on the team in innings pitched with 25.1, a 5-0 record, 1.11 ERA and 40 strikeouts. Brady Jones, Danny Wehr and a few other players will also be counted on to throw innings this season.


… The Panthers will also look different on the defensive side of the mound. Two big moves for PV will be Goida moving to catcher and Kokinda over to shortstop. “I like where we’re at defensively, and again that’s because of our baseball IQ. We’ve been working hard with our guys in new roles. We also have a lot of speed out there in the outfield, where I think we will be able to make a lot of plays out there,” said Evanko.



... Pleasant Valley head coach Joe Anderton liked what he saw from his team during the offseason. “Offseason was productive, many kids not in other sports were committed to getting better,” he said. “We ran an intramural program and had a lifting program. We have had a few kids stand out for getting stronger and faster.”


... The progress Anderton saw in the offseason has continued into the early weeks of the spring. “Team has come together well and have adjusted to possibly playing different positions or playing multiple positions,” the coach said. “We need to replace our top two pitchers and find enough guys to get us through some tough stretches, but we should have enough arms to be competitive. We also need to replace the top three hitters in our lineup - so finding offense will be key.”


... The Bears will have a mix of youth and experience as they find their way this season. “The group of seniors is a hard-working group with good leadership, we can run and we have some talented underclassmen coming up who are adjusting well to the speed of the game,” said Anderton. “Youth and inexperience will be the biggest early season issues. Having enough pitchers and filling the holes left by the graduation of some really good players.”


... Ethan Balanca, Dakoda Lucas, Zach Pandolfo, Maverick Walsh, Anden Bordick, Ian Campbell, Kole Henry, Cameron King, Ty Borger, Sam Smale, Brayon Green and Royce Thompson will be key contributors for Pleasant Valley this season. “We need to learn to compete and be productive offensively,” said Anderton. “(We want to) make the playoffs.”


... “The kids have been working hard and adjusting to some new coaches and some new roles, once we figure out the best fits all around and our 1-through-9, we should be pretty competitive,” said Anderton.



... The way the Blue Raiders ended the season with some positive wins and a berth in the District 11 Class 3A playoffs, before losing out to Wilson, 9-3, could be a potential springboard for 2024, as skipper Jeff Reading is banking on having five starters back in the fold.


... The Blue Raiders tucked away the bats and balls after going 12-9, and could be better if things fall into place, led by high-profile Division I recruit and University of Pitt-bound Mason Ligenza, a two-way player and a junior this season. Ligenza will be on the bump when he’s not in the outfield or at first base. Ligenza hit .386 in 2023 and tossed 40.2 innings with an outstanding ERA 1.55 and 47 Ks. There are two seniors returning in Lucas Kamant (P/OF), who batted .364; Wyatt Steigerwalt, a standout pitcher and second baseman (.277) who tossed 17 innings. Also returning are Cooper Ansbach (P/SS, .244), and very dependable junior Luke Kane (P/C/1B) who drove in 18 runs a season ago.


... Nine is the number here, with four juniors looking to earn a starting spot. Maximus Najarro (1B/)DH), Noah Steigerwalt (INF/OF), Matt Vecolitis (P/INF) and Zach Breiner (INF). Two sophomores in the picture are Logan Morgans (P/INF/OF), and Luke Frohnheiser (P/C/INF). There’s a trio of freshmen on the cusp to start in Gave Hess (P/OF), Landon Kamant (P/UTIL) and Jake Yenser (P/UTIL).


... Reading likes his defense, but like most high school teams, the search for pitching depth is at the forefront. “We have five solid returning defensive starters, but need to find some pitching,” he said. “(We are) younger than we thought we would be. Question marks at some positions to fill with a lot of newcomers. Young guys will have to grow up quickly in a tough Division 1.”


... Reading has a solid team of baseball knowledge in Bob Workman, Zach Chodur, Craig Valentine, Greg Haney, Nate McDonald, Ryan Frederickson and Jason Gerber.



... A new manager takes on the task of getting the Wreckers baseball squad ready for the 2024 season in Kennth Jacoby. One noticeable area of upswing is the roster size. This spring the new skipper has 13 players on the roster, a big increase of the previous seasons.


... Weatherly athletes have always competed, and this season’s baseball team could be better than expected. The Wreckers look to add more wins after going 1-14 in the Schuylkill League and 3-18 overall. Jacoby, for sure, is very optimistic, and playing on their home field is a plus factor, a tough ballpark to handle for visitors with a deep center-field chasm if you will.


...The returning players have but two to the roster, which includes team captains Jack James and Klaus Eroh. Both have stepped up and worked with the younger players to help develop the program, Jacoby pointed out.


... So far, the starting lineup will feature freshman Jeremiah Donadi (SS), senior Eroh behind the plate and James on the bump. Another rookie and freshman at third finds Bradlee Connors, along with freshman second baseman Kam Jacoby, while first base finds senior Dante Lobello. The outfield has senior Austyn Lamonica in right, while a pair of juniors in center and left are Mike Davies with Ryan Breslosky. Looking to get playing time is senior Aiden Rhoades, juniors Trent Higgins and Ivan Wilkinson, while frosh Emilio Valenzuela is also in the mix.


... Weatherly has one of the smallest enrollments in the PIAA, but never backs down to a challenge and lines up in the Division III of the league. The new guy directing things sees it as a development season. “With a lot of newcomers, we will look to develop for the future while being competitive this year,” said Jacoby. “The team’s future looks bright with a younger, inexperienced team at the high school level, but there is lots of potential and coachable players, which is all we can ask for.”

Capsules by Patrick Matsinko, Brad Hurley, Sam Matta and Chuck Hixson.

Panther Valley's Stephen Hood returns after a stellar campaign last season when he went 5-2 on the mound and pitched a team-leading 53 innings with a 1.45 ERA and 85 strikeouts while also batting .463 with 27 RBIs and five home runs. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO