HYDE — Even with seven lettermen, the Clearfield Area High School baseball team will be youth-oriented again this season.
Outfielder Matt Josephson, a letterwinner who saw limited action in 10 games last year, is the lone senior.
The roster shows seven juniors and nine sophomores.
“This might be the youngest squad we’ve ever fielded, but it is a very dedicated group,” said coach Sid Lansberry, who has been heading the diamond program at his alma mater for 41 years with a 550-365-3 record. “They all played a lot of baseball last summer, some actually participating in three different leagues (American Legion, VFW Teener and Babe Ruth). And we feel we had a productive off-season program with excellent participation.”
Junior catcher Jonas Kochan, sophomore shortstop Cole Kephart, junior infielder-outfielder Wyatt Westen and junior left fielder Curtis Collins are returning starters.
The other two lettermen were part-time starters, junior Jon Janocko at first base and third base and soph Thomas Summers as a designated hitter.
Despite the overall experience, Lansberry is keeping the Bison goals modest because of last year’s 4-13 finish, especially in light of the fact that the 2012 seniors accounted for four of the top five batting averages, all over .300, and the most of the starts and innings pitched.
“We want to play hard every game and be competitive against what we feel is a very challenging record,” he said. “Our main focus is to show steady improvement and, hopefully, earn a spot in the District 9 (Class AAA) Playoffs.”
Pitching and defense will be all-important for the Bison, because high earned run averages (6.36, 7.47, 7.35) and too many unearned runs (39, 51, 53) have kept them under .500 the last three seasons. The 2010 and 2011 seasons wound up 9-10 and 9-11, respectively, after losing in the district semifinals.
“We have four starters, and all will have lots of opportunities to prove themselves,” Lansberry said. “We’ll be keeping a close watch on pitch counts, making sure we don’t overextend anyone, especially early on.”
Westen has the most mound experience. He was 1-1 and made one start in seven appearances last spring, working 22.1 innings with a 5.98 ERA, 26 strikeouts, and 14 walks.
Summers, the Bison’s lone left-hander, logged 6.2 innings with a 4.20 ERA, and Janocko pitched 4.1 innings. Each relieved in four games.
Junior Devin Jones, up from the junior varsity, joins that trio in the starting rotation.
For relief pitching, Lansberry will turn to all of the starters as well as Kephart and sophs Sawyer Rowles and Josh Kennedy.
Evaluating the players defensively has been difficult due to the weather, which has limited the Bison to only three outdoor workouts, two on the football field turf and one at the Driving Park.
“This is very important since we have good competition at every position,” Lansberry said. “We may be well into our schedule before we will be able to establish a set lineup.”
Kochan, who made only 13 trips to the plate last year, and soph Josh Sorbera might well share the catching duties as they are in a dead heat for the starting job.
The inner defense will depend on the starting pitcher that day.
Summers and Janocko, the top two returning hitters, could be platooning at first base when not on the hill. Summers had 11 hits for a .304 average and drove in seven runs, while Janocko had 10 hits for a .263 average and six RBIs. Junior Kaleb Taylor and soph Erik Sellers are back-ups.
Kephart (.213) is the incumbent at shortstop, but Lansberry likes his strong arm at third base, too.
Westen has impressed at shortstop and also can handle second base, two of the five positions he started games last spring when he had seven hits but drove in nine runs.
Second base is wide open with sophs Spencer Herrington and Noah Cline in the mix along with Westen and Jones.
On the left side of the infield, Herrington can be plugged in at short and Kennedy probably will get the nod at third if Kephart is at short.
In the outfield, Collins returns in left, while competition for the other two berths is headed by Josephson, who made three starts last year, and soph Sawyer Rowles, who made two starts, but also involves Kennedy, Cline, junior Zach Timchak and soph Erik Sellers.
“Offensively, we’re looking for Kephart, Collins, Summers, Janocko and Westen to carry the load early in the season and hoping for the lower part of our order to contribute more as we work through our schedule.
“Our greatest asset right now is our attitude. The players and coaches are committed to creating a true team environment, realizing we are all in this together and success only can be achieved through teamwork.”
Clearfield is scheduled to open at Central Monday, but chances of that Mountain League game as well as one at Huntingdon Thursday are very doubtful.
Philipsburg-Osceola, Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Tyrone are the other teams in the league, which has a new look for the second year in a row with Central Mountain and Juniata dropping out.
Non-league games are booked with Central Mountain and District 9 Class AAA rivals Punxsutawney and Bradford as well as DuBois and Brookville.
Last year’s Bison seniors were Coleman Kubala (.304 average, 9 RBIs), Kyler Kephart (.352, 20 RBIs), Ronny Ogden (.314, 14 RBIs) and Tanner Ogden (.350, 19 RBIs). They socked 19 of the team’s 23 extra base hits.
Kephart (2-5), Ronny Ogden (1-5) and Tanner Ogden (0-1) started 15 of the 17 games and pitched 70.2 of the 105.2 innings.
Members of Lansberry’s coaching staff, all former Bison players, are varsity assistant and junior varsity head coach Donnie Shimmel (23rd year), varsity assistants Brandon Billotte (9th) and Chris Peacock (8th), varsity and JV assistants Ed Yeager (13th) and Adam Jury and JV assistant Brent Lykens.
The 2012 roster, with letterwinners denoted by (*):
Seniors - Matt Josephson (*), of.
Juniors – Curtis Collins (*), of; Jon Janocko (*), p, if; Devin Jones, p, if; Jonas Kochan (*), c; Zach Timchak, of; Kaleb Taylor, 1b; Wyatt Westen (*), p, if.
Sophomores - Noah Cline, 2b, of; Dan Collins, c; Spencer Herrington, if; Josh Kennedy, if, of; Cole Kephart (*), if, p; Sawyer Rowles, of, p; Erik Sellers, 1b-of; Josh Sorbera, c; Thomas Summers (*), p, 1b.
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The schedule, with home games in capitals and (ML) for Mountain League games:
(All games at 4:30 p.m. unless noted)
25 – at Central (ML); 28 – at Huntingdon (ML).
3 – BALD EAGLE AREA (ML); 5 – BELLEFONTE (ML); 8 – at Tyrone (ML); 9 – PUNXSUTAWNEY; 11 – PENNS VALLEY (ML); 15 – DUBOIS; 16 – PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (ML); 19 – CENTRAL (ML); 22 – HUNTINGDON (ML); 25 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML); 29 – at Central Mountain, 4:15 p.m.; 30 – at Bellefonte (ML).
3 – TYRONE (ML); 6 – BROOKVILLE; 7 – at Penns Valley (ML); 10 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 13 – at Bradford, 4:15 p.m.; 17 – at Punxsutawney.