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Technology comes to both Lehighton and Panther Valley baseball teams

The coach puts on a headset that hooks a microphone toward his mouth from under his chin.

His catcher inserts an earpiece.

“Fastball, outside corner,” says the coach from the bench.

His catcher drops down his index finger and taps the inside of his right thigh to deliver the pitch selection and its location to his pitcher on the mound.

For Lehighton and Panther Valley, gone is the customary method of coaches using their hands to signal their catchers for what type of pitch they want thrown. Welcome to the 2024 wireless communication system referred to as “pitch com.”

Indian head coach JC Dietz and Panther mentor Rich Evanko both believe their use of pitch com has been very beneficial to their in-game communication with their pitchers and catchers.

“The product we use is put out by a company called Porta Phone,” said Dietz. “It’s basically the same system used by football officials when they communicate with each other from different areas of the field, and it’s been very helpful.”

He mentioned that which pitches he wants his hurlers to throw is an integral part of their game preparation.

“We research our opponent’s hitters’ tendencies so we have a better idea of how to get them out,” said Dietz. “Then we simply relay the pitches we want thrown to our catcher by way of the wireless devices.”

So far there have been no technical issues with the devices that come in a storage box to reduce the risk of loss. Dietz added that the devices can also be used for setting up defensive calls.

“We can speak our first and third defensive option to our catcher into his ear piece and then he can hand signal that information to our infield. We can also communicate to our catcher to be on watch for a stolen base from the faster runners on the teams we play.”

His assistant coaches - Nick Hill, John Serfoss, Zack Serfoss and Anthony Rossino - have all been schooled in the use of the devices. During games, Hill calls the pitches and their locations into the earpiece worn by junior catcher John Light.

“We can ‘call in’ a pickoff throw, or we can send our catcher out to tell the pitcher something he needs to correct about his mechanics,” said Dietz.

“That saves us having to use the limited number of visits a coach can make to the mound.”

The unit was purchased through monies raised by the Lehighton Baseball Parents’ Club.

“We are extremely grateful for everything our parents’ group does for our program,” said Dietz.

Evanko explained that his unit - the same system used by Lehighton - have both wired and Blue Tooth capabilities, and the battery pack for the wireless mode is attached to the back of the catcher’s chest protector.

He said that the system virtually eliminates communication mistakes.

“Sometimes the catcher would misread the pitch call with my flashing hand signals,” Evanko said, “but with pitch com, he hears the call so the pitcher always gets the right pitch I want him to throw. The system works great with a new catcher, too, because he doesn’t have to learn all the hand signals we used to use.

“We also communicate to the catcher to go to the mound to tell our pitchers they might not be finishing their delivery.”

The tech system allows for the catcher to use one or two ear pieces. PV backstop Hayden Goida uses one for his right ear.

Dietz has not played yet against an opponent that employs the pitch com.

“We get a lot of interest and questions about the unit, so I think there will be more coming into the high school game.”

Evanko said that Abington Heights uses pitch com, while Shenandoah uses a walkie talkie type system with the catcher having a wire that runs from his pocket to the earpiece.

“Anything new like this pitch com usually makes old-school coaches a bit hesitant about bringing it to their game, but I think we’ll see more schools using it in the future,” said Dietz.

The thought of getting advanced systems that relay a catcher’s pitch call to an earpiece worn by the pitcher as used in the MLB might be impractical according to Dietz.

“There’s always a cost factor when it comes to high school sports.”

“Pitch com definitely helps speed up the game,” said Evanko. “We no longer have to repeat a series of hand signals because the catcher was unsure of the pitch call.”

Speeding up the game of baseball has been a recent focus in the MLB.

The trickle-down effect is now reaching the high school game for at least two area programs - with a high probability that more schools will be getting on board by adding technology to how they manage their in-game strategies.


HIT PARADE ... Four area softball players recently reached the century mark in hits. Marian’s Morgan Kelly did it with a two-run homer and a two-run triple in a 15-0 win over Mahanoy on April 19, when she also tossed a five inning no-hitter, striking out 14. Palmerton’s Megan Matsko did it on the same day, leading the Bombers to a 10-0 win over Tamaqua with three hits, including a triple, three RBIs and two runs scored. Northwestern’s Sage Toman reached the milestone on April 16 in a 7-4 win over Kutztown with an RBI triple. Panther Valley’s Mikayla Yuricheck accomplished the feat Tuesday with two hits, a pair of RBIs and a run scored in a 15-0 win over Lincoln Leadership Academy. Both Kelly and Yuricheck are the first softball players in school history to accomplish the feat.


SISTER ACT ... Northern Lehigh freshman Addie Smith made her varsity pitching debut last Thursday and turned in a memorable performance.

Smith tossed six innings and allowed just four hits and one run during an 11-1 victory over Jim Thorpe. She didn’t allow any walks and struck out five.

Addie’s older sister - Emma - is the team’s regular starting pitcher and at the beginning of the game, the senior went to the circle and handed the ball to her younger sibling.


STRIKEOUT SUCCESS ... Northwestern’s Emma Freeman, a recent Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Athlete of the Week recipient, hit a career milestone in strikeouts for the Tigers. Freeman recorded the 200th strikeout of her career in an 11-2 win over Pen Argyl on April 17. Freeman struck out 10 in seven innings, and also collected three hits and an RBI in the win.


BEARS ROAR ... A pair of Pleasant Valley girls lacrosse players recently reached career milestones. On April 16, Abygail Borger stopped five shots to record the 200th save of her career in a 12-5 win over Easton. On April 18, Olivia Iandoli scored four goals, including the 100th of her career, and had three assists in a 16-4 victory over Freedom. The Bears are currently 14-0 and atop the District 11 Class 3A standings. They are the only unbeaten girls lacrosse team in either 2A or 3A.


ANOTHER NO-NO ... Palmerton’s Carly Gaffney tossed back-to-back no-hitters last week. Gaffney started the week with a no-no in a 14-0 win in five innings against Pen Argyl on April 15. She continued that success in another unhittable outing April 17, striking out six in a 15-0 win over Saucon Valley in three innings.


TIGER TALE ... Olivia Costa recently recorded the 100th point of her career for the Northwestern girls lacrosse team.


CLINCHED ... Several area baseball and softball teams have clinched a spot in the upcoming District 11 playoffs. The Northwestern (Class 3A), Lehighton (4A) and Tamaqua (4A) baseball teams have already punched their postseason tickets. The Palmerton (3A) and Northwestern (4A) softball teams have also secured spots in the postseason.


GOING THE DISTANCE ... Lehighton cross country and track and field head coach Erica Pagotto completed the Boston Marathon for the third time on April 15. She finished the 128th edition of the event in 3:26.05, her second-fastest time. It was her 16th marathon overall. The following day, her son, Elijah Pagotto, broke a 27-year-old school record in the 3200 held by Leroy Gaston, running a 10:29.68 to break the previous mark of 10:30 set in 1997. Elijah lowered the mark at the Blue Mountain Invite on April 19, running a 10:09.69.

Panther Valley catcher Hayden Goida wears an earpiece that allows his head coach to communicate with him to tell him what pitches he wants his pitcher to throw. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS