HYDE — Sid Lansberry has been a schoolboy baseball head coach way too many years to believe that experience and potential will guarantee success.
His 43rd Clearfield Area High School team boasts 11 lettermen, but Lansberry is low-keying any optimism until he discovers how much the returnees, as well as some of the players up from the junior varsity, have improved since the end of last season.
Four wins in the last six games, including back-to-back decisions over rivals Philipsburg-Osceola (Mountain League) and Punxsutawney (District 9 Class AAA) in the final week, were encouraging signs for a team that finished 7-12 without a senior on the roster.
However, the Bison must perform better in all three phases of the game.
And the improvement must be markedly measurable from the 2013 numbers.
In 126 innings, the pitching staff surrendered 178 hits and 78 walks while posting a 5.44 earned run average that, while the best in four seasons, was still too high to keep the Bison in many of their games.
The defense put even more pressure on the hurlers with an average of three-plus misplays, giving opponents what amounted to be an extra inning’s worth of at-bats.
Though averaging nearly 6.5 runs, the Bison hit only .249 and wasted too many scoring opportunities, stranding nine or more runners in nine outings and averaging 8.5 runners left on base. Only 25 of their 131 hits went for extra bases, and two players accounted for 15 of those.
Evaluating the squad’s progress during the preseason has been problematic because of the lingering winter weather that has limited outside workouts to a few practices on the turf surface at the football field plus, two road scrimmages.
So, Lansberry is keeping the team goals modest going into the scheduled ML opener against Central at Martinsburg Tuesday afternoon.
“We want to play hard, try to be competitive every game and improve as the season goes on,” he said.
Hopefully, come May, the Bison will be top tier team in the league as well as a district playoff contender.
The holdovers must make that happen, and they include a quartet of two-year letterwinners in seniors Curtis Collins and Jon Janocko and juniors Cole Kephart and Thomas Summers.
Also returning are seniors Devin Jones and Zach Timchak and juniors Spencer Herrington, Josh Kennedy, Sawyer Rowles, Erik Sellers and Josh Sorbera.
Herrington was named to the All-Mountain League First Team at second base after hitting .328 and scoring a team-high 21 runs. He was second in hits with 19 and drew the most walks, 20, in his role as the leadoff batter.
Summers received honorable mention as the designated hitter, though most of his 18 safeties came when he was on the mound, at first base or in the outfield. His average was .305, which is his two-year average for 29 hits, and he drove in nine runs.
Pitcher-first baseman Janocko paced the Bison in most offensive categories with a .333 average and 21 RBIs on 20 hits that included four of the team’s six home runs and five doubles.
Kephart missed the .300 plateau by two points with his 17 hits and was second in ribbies with 12. The two-year shortstop belted the team’s other two home runs in the 9-2 finale against Punxsy to finish with six extra base blows.
Junior Noah Cline will back up the Herrington-Kephart keystone combination, and sophomore pitcher Brandon Orsich also will be available for second base.
Who’s at first will depend on the starting pitcher with Janocko, Summers and Sellers all expected to see time there.
Kennedy (.200, 8 hits) gets the nod at third base after earning his letter primarily as a right fielder or designated hitter last season. Sellers has experience there too, and junior Dan Collins provides depth.
Curtis Collins (.229, 16 hits, 10 RBIs) and Rowles will be back in left and center field, respectively, with Cline as a back-up. Right field is unsettled with Timchak and sophomore Logan Puit in the mix and Summers a possible fly chaser in certain situations.
Sorbera retains the catching duties he claimed in the final six games last spring. Dan Collins, Puit and Timchak also can go behind the plate if necessary.
“Defensively, we haven’t played that well in practices so far, but we have the potential of being pretty solid,” Lansberry said.
Jones (2-3, 4.24 ERA), Janocko (1-2, 4.35 ERA), Summers (2-4, 6.37 ERA) and Orsich will handle the bulk of the pitching chores, but Lansberry hasn’t settled on a starting rotation. Some relief innings probably will go to junior Nate Brady.
“We have three experienced starters, plus a sophomore who hasbeen looking pretty good, but they have to show improvement,” Lansberry said. “And that remains to be seen.”
If a designated hitter is utilized, Lansberry said his choices probably would be Puit or Dan Collins with Janocko and Summers possibly getting the nod in certain situations, like if they pitched the day before.
“Bottom line, you’ve got to get your best hitters in the game,” he said. “We should be able to improve over last year’s hitting, but I’ve been disappointed so far. I thought we’d come along a lot quicker than we have with timing and hitting the ball to the opposite field. We’re still trying to pull the ball too much.
“We’ve been trying to emphasize on-base percentage, which I think is a lot more important than batting average. Then, we need to increase our slugging percentage with more extra base hits.”
Returning to the Altoona Curve Classic after a three-year absence will toughen the schedule as the Bison are in a bracket with Altoona, Hollidaysburg and Greater Latrobe.
Clearfield was successful in its first three appearances with 6-2 record, winning the championship in 2008 and losing in the finals in 2010.
Punxsy, DuBois and Brookville round out a difficult non-league slate to go with the rugged Mountain League card that will make it a real challenge for the Bison to attain the program’s first winning record since 2009.
“There are no easy teams in the league, but Central, Bald Eagle Area, Huntingdon and Penns Valley stand out,” Lansberry said. “Those four teams have a lot of kids back. And P-O will be better for sure.”
Members of Lansberry’s coaching staff, all former Bison players, are varsity assistant and junior varsity head coach Donnie Shimmel (24th year), varsity assistants Brandon Billotte (10th) and Chris Peacock (9th), varsity and JV assistants Ed Yeager (14th) and Adam Jury (2nd) and JV assistant Brent Lykens.
The 2014 roster, with (*) denoting number of letters:
Seniors - Curtis Collins (**), of; Jon Janocko (**), p, if; Devin Jones (*), p, if; Zach Timchak (*), of.
Juniors - Nate Brady, p; Noah Cline, if, of; Dan Collins, c, 3b; Spencer Herrington (*), 2b, ss; Josh Kennedy (*), 3b; Cole Kephart (**), ss; Sawyer Rowles (*), of; Erik Sellers (*), 1b, 3b; Josh Sorbera (*), c; Thomas Summers (**), p, 1b, of.
Sophomores - Brandon Orsich, p, 2b; Logan Puit, of, c.
* * * * *
The schedule, with (ML) for Mountain League games, home games in capitals and starting times 4:30 p.m. unless noted:
25 – at Central (ML); 27 – HUNTINGDON (ML); 31 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML).
3 – at Bellefonte (ML); 7 – at Penns Valley (ML); 8 – TYRONE (ML); 11 - Altoona in Altoona Curve Classic at People’s Natural Gas Stadium, 12:30 p.m.; 12 – Hollidaysburg or Latrobe in Altoona Curve Classic, TBA; 13 – at Altoona Curve Classic, TBA; 14 – PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (ML); 17 – CENTRAL (ML); 21 – DuBois; 22 – at Huntingdon (ML); 25 – BALD EAGLE AREA (ML); 28 – BELLEFONTE (ML).
1 – at Tyrone (ML); 2 – at Punxsutawney, 4:15 p.m.; 6 – PENNS VALLEY (ML); 7 – at Brookville, 4:15 p.m.; 9 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML).