HYDE — The 2015 Clearfield Area High School baseball team is eyeing a turnaround season with the return of nine lettermen, including seven starters, but injuries already have taken their toll and pitching depth is another concern.
Longtime coach Sid Lansberry expects the Bison to be improved on defense and is hoping for more production with runners in scoring position.
Those were the major reasons the 2014 Bison finished with a deceiving 4-15 record.
Lack of clutch hitting and defensive lapses proved costly, opponents capitalizing for 48 unearned runs, as the Bison suffered seven losses by one run and three losses by two runs.
“Last year’s team was very competitive and played hard, but nothing seemed to fall in place for them,” Lansberry said. “Our main goal is to turn some of those tough losses into victories.
“So far, the general team attitude and enthusiasm has been very encouraging.
“A strong senior class should be an advantage because of their leadership and maturity.”
Though experience alone is no guarantee of success, the Bison will be leaning heavily on six seniors with multi letters.
Third baseman Cole Kephart and pitcher-outfielder Thomas Summers are three-year lettermen while shortstop Spencer Herrington, center fielder Sawyer Rowles, first baseman Erik Sellers and catcher Josh Sorbera are two-year letterwinners.
Versatile senior returnee Dan Collins, second baseman Noah Cline and pitcher Nate Brady are the other seniors. Cline was slated for middle infield and outfield backup roles before an injury ended his junior season.
Pitcher Brandon Orsich and outfielder Logan Puit are junior lettermen.
Injuries already have caused a re-do for the lineup that Lansberry had projected going into the preseason.
Orsich and Sellers missed most of the all-indoor practices because of injuries, and Puit now is out indefinitely.
“That’s three starters right there,” Lansberry said.
When they work into mid-season form, Orsich and Summers figure to give the Bison their best righty-lefty starting combination in years.
Last spring, Orsich was 2-2 with a scintillating 1.75 earned run average in 12 appearances, completing three of his four starts. He worked a team-high 40 innings and led the staff in strikeouts with 32 while issuing only 12 walks.
Summers was 1-5 but had a 2.60 ERA as only 14 of the 35 runs he allowed were earned. He pitched 37.2 innings in 10 appearances, striking out 27 and walking 22. His three-year ERA is 4.20.
“They will share the bulk of the mound time, but we just don’t have much experience behind those two,” Lansberry said. “You can’t rely on complete games from starting pitchers early and with the weather and the way games get backed up, you need some of the other pitchers to come through.”
The only other hurlers with varsity experience are Kephart with 3.2 innings in two seasons and Brady with 2.2 innings last year.
Herrington, Collins, junior Logan Lykens and sophomores Tommy Hazel and Will Myers round out the staff.
All are right-handers, but their roles as spot starters, long relievers or, possibly, closers have yet to be determined.
Sorbera (.246, 14 hits, 7 RBIs, 15 walks last year) is back for his third season behind the plate, with Collins and Lykens capable of filling in there.
The left side of the infield is set with Kephart (.306, 19 hits, team-high three home runs, 12 RBIs) at the hot corner and Herrington (.227, 15 hits) at shortstop. Herrington had a much better sophomore season with 19 hits for a .328 average.
Collins or sophomore Marcus Luzier will play if Kephart is called on to pitch, while Myers is a very capable back-up to Herrington.
Cline is the frontrunner at second base but is being pushed by Myers and junior Justin Fedder.
First base is the most hotly-contested position with five players in the running, according to Lansberry.
“Collins and Lykens have done most of the work so far with Sellers out,” he said. “Summers and Orsich also can handle the position.”
Sellers (.242, 7 RBIs) saw most of his playing time last year at second base.
Rowles (.233) will anchor the outfield, but the other two jobs are up for grabs.
Lansberry had Puit (.320, 16 hits, 11 RBIs, 16 walks) penciled in for one of them but doesn’t know if the speedy leadoff batter will be able to return from the injury list .
Hazel has the inside track for right field and Summers, who dipped to .215 with 10 RBIs after hitting above .300 as a freshman and sophomore, has seen enough time in the outfield to start in left field when not on the mound.
Fedder or Jonathan Trimpey are vying for playing time as flychasers, too.
Starting pitching and defense should be our strong points, but Lansberry said the Bison must have a big spike in hitting.
“We had only three guys over .300 last year, and you need to have six or seven to be successful,“ he pointed out. “In the past, we’ve had all nine guys over .300.
“And we’ve got to get those clutch hits with runners in scoring position.”
If a designated hitter is in the lineup, the leading candidates are Collins, Orsich and Luzier for the start of the season, which will be Monday against defending Mountain League champion Central at Martinsburg Monday, weather permitting.
Lansberry indicated the Scarlet Dragons are loaded again and expects Huntingdon and Penns Valley to have solid teams.
He’s been told that perennial District 9 Class AAA champion Punxsutawney will field its best team since 2007 when the Chucks won the state crown.
The Bison need a much better start than last year when they dug an 0-9 hole, but they will face Central twice, Huntingdon twice and Punxsy in their first 10 games, seven of which will be on the road.
“That’s pretty tough, but these kids play as much baseball as any other team, so they’ve had the opportunities to get better,” Lansberry said.
Non-league opponents will include Curwensville for the first time in more than a decade, DuBois, Brookville and either Bishop Guilfoyle or Forest Hills on the second day of the Altoona Curve Classic.
The Bison will be making their fifth appearance at Peoples Natural Gas Field with their April 10 opener against Central counting in the Mountain League, too.
Clearfield teams were a combined 7-3 in previous visits, winning the championship in 2008 and losing in the finals in 2010.
The seniors on last year’s team were All-ML second team left fielder Curtis Collins, who led the Bison with 22 hits and a .328 average, first baseman-pitcher Jon Janocko, right fielder Zach Timchak and pitcher Devin Jones.
Janocko hit .242 with six doubles, two home runs and a team-high 15 RBIs and pitched 30.1 innings in nine games with five starts. He was 1-5 ,while Jones was 0-2 in 18.2 innings in six outings with four starts.
Collins is redshirting at Mansfield University after making the squad as a walk-on.
Lansberry, embarking on his 44th season at the helm of his alma mater with a 561-392-3 record, has a staff that includes Donnie Shimmel (25th year), Brandon Billotte (11th) and volunteers Chris Peacock (10th), Adam Jury (3rd) and Ed Yeager (15th) on the varsity.
Shimmel heads the junior varsity program and will be assisted by newcomers Shawn Zimmerman, David Learish and Justin Hoffman. The latter two are volunteers.
The 2014 roster, with (*) denoting number of letters:
Seniors – Nate Brady, p; Noah Cline, 2b, of; Dan Collins (*), 3b, 1b, c, p; Spencer Herrington (**), ss, p; Cole Kephart (***), 3b, p; Sawyer Rowles (**), of; Erik Sellers (**), 1b; Josh Sorbera (**), c; Thomas Summers (***), p, of, 1b.
Juniors – Justin Fedder, 2b, of; Logan Lykens p, 1b; Brandon Orsich (*), p, 1b; Logan Puit (*), of; Jonathan Trimpey, of.
Sophomores – Tommy Hazel, of, p; Marcus Luzier, 3b; Will Myers, ss, 2b, p.
* * * * *
The schedule, with (ML) for Mountain League games, home games in capitals and starting times 4:30 p.m. unless noted:
23 – at Central (ML); 26 – at Huntingdon (ML); 31 – at Bellefonte (ML).
2 – TYRONE (ML); 6 – PUNXSUTAWNEY; 7 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML); 10 – Central (ML) at Altoona Curve Classic at People’s Natural Gas Stadium, 3 p.m.; 11 – Bishop Guilfoyle or Forest Hills at Altoona Curve Classic, TBA; 12 – at Altoona Curve Classic, TBA; 14 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 20 – HUNTINGDON (ML); 23 – BELLEFONTE (ML); 24 – at Curwensville, 4:15 p.m.; 28 – at Tyrone (ML); 29 – PENNS VALLEY (ML).
1 – BALD EAGLE AREA (ML); 4 – at Penns Valley (ML); 7 – PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (ML); 11 – CURWENSVILLE; 14 -BROOKVILLE; 15 – at DuBois.