HYDE — While experience doesn’t guarantee success, it is a key ingredient in the recipe, and nine lettermen will provide that for the 2017 Clearfield Area High School baseball team.
Two-year veterans Will Myers and Tommy Hazel, senior classmates Thayne and Zane Morgan, juniors Seth Bumbarger, Jake Sorbera, Reese Wilson and sophomores Ty Bender and Eli Glass give the Bison a solid foundation for coach Sid Lansberry’s 46th season at the helm of his alma mater.
With Sorbera the projected starter for Monday’s opener against Central, the Bison probably will have Zane Morgan behind the plate, Bumbarger at first base, Myers and Thayne Morgan in the middle infield, Glass at third base and Hazel, Wilson and Bender in the outfield from left to right.
“We should be able to put a pretty veteran lineup on the field, but there still are real question marks position-wise,” Lansberry said. “Several of our lettermen are capable of playing multiple positions, so it’s just a matter of putting people in the right places.”
Defense should be a strong point, for the 2016 Bison committed only 31 errors, the fewest in many years.
“If we can equal that, I’ll be happy,” Lansberry said. “I think we should be fairly solid defensively.”
And he believes the Bison’s overall speed will be a plus.
“This is one of the faster teams we’ve had,” he said. “We have some kids who can run. Last year, we had 50 stolen bases, and if we can do that, that would be great.”
He does have some concerns, though, citing the mound staff, the need to hit for power and a tough early schedule.
“My biggest worry is pitching,” he stated. “We’ve been fortunate the past two years to have Mountain League First Team pitchers (Thomas Summers and Brandon Orsich). It will be especially challenging to replace Orsich’s 63 innings and seven wins.”
Orsich also set high standards with a glittering 1.22 earned run average, 68 strikeouts with only seven walks and eight complete games in nine starts.
Sorbera stepped into the role of No. 2 starter last spring and responded with a 4-3 record, three complete games in five starts and a 3.07 ERA in 29-2/3 innings. Myers made four starts with one win in three decisions and a 3.44 ERA in 20.1 innings. Hazel posted a 2.19 ERA for 16 innings in six appearances. Hazel and Myers had ERAs of 1.24 and 2.00, respectively, in a combined 19-2/3 innings two years ago.
That trio will work the majority of the innings along with Glass, who pitched for the junior varsity last year before being called up to the varsity for eight starts at third base, right field or designated hitter during the final month of the season.
“Those four are gonna be okay,” Lansberry said. “Right now, Sorbera has thrown the most, and he’s probably our No. 1.”
Wilson, Thayne Morgan and junior Wyatt Porter are likely to get opportunities, too, during busy weeks because of the PIAA’s newly-implemented pitch-count rule that will require coaches to have one or more options for almost every game plan.
The 14-inning limit per calendar week has been replaced by a 200-pitch count, but few pitchers will get close to that total because rests are mandated for three benchmarks, one day for 26-50 pitches, two days for 51-75 pitches and three days for 76-100 pitches, the latter number the maximum for one game.
If less than 26 pitches are recorded, a pitcher can go to the hill the next day but cannot be called on more than two consecutive days.
There is no doubt the rule will have an impact.
“Ordinarily, you’re talking 120 pitches for seven innings if you’re pitching well,” he explained. “So, in the fifth inning of a tight game, you’ve gotta decide if it is worth leaving your kid in or taking him out so he can pitch later in the week. Otherwise, you’re gonna get only one appearance a week out of a kid.
“We’re probably going to use multiple pitchers every game, and when you play back-to-back games, which happens often, you’ve gotta be careful.”
The Bison’s bats have been slow to come around primarily due to the weather that has kept almost all of the practices indoors.
“I don’t know what to expect because we’ve only been outside twice to see live pitching,” Lansberry said late last week. “And we have seven basketball players who we didn’t have for a whole week because of their playoffs.
“Judging from what we’ve done so far, we’re not hitting as a team, but it’s early.”
Lansberry would like to see a marked increase in extra base hits, for the last four Bison teams have averaged just a little over one per game, with only 10 doubles and 17 home runs in 80 games. The 2016 team experience a severe power outage with just one triple and two home runs, both in the season opener.
Getting runners aboard hasn’t been the problem, such as last year when the Bison hit .274, drew 83 walks and had 10 hit batsmen but stranded more than eight runners per game en route to a 12-9 record.
All four .300-plus hitters return to jump-start the offense.
Zane Morgan led the team in with a .377 average as well as hits (23) and runs scored (19) and was second in runs batted in (11). He had the lone three-bagger and one of the homers.
Myers was next at .368 but saw his at-bats limited due to an injury, while Thayne Morgan hit .326 and Bender hit .310 with team-highs in doubles (8) and RBIs (12), was second in hits (18) and accounted for the other homer.
Wilson and Glass, who can play all four infield positions, both hit .278.
Providing depth on defense will be Bender, Porter and junior Alex Coval behind the plate, senior Jarrit Wagner at first base, Porter and junior Jon Gates at second base, Sorbera and junior Alec Graham at third base and Sorbera and Coval in the outfield.
Wagner is the leading candidate for pinch-hitting or designated hitter roles.
“So far, the team attitude has been great,” Lansberry said. “There is tremendous camaraderie among these kids. Much of that is a carryover from basketball, plus the fact that they have played a lot of baseball together coming up through Little League, Teener League and American Legion.
“As always, our goals are simple. We want to have a winning season and contend for the league and district championships.”
None are a sure thing.
“The Mountain League is loaded with good teams,” noted Lansberry, who will learn a lot about his team in the first two weeks.
After taking on Central, the Bison must contend with Huntingdon, Bellefonte and Punxsutawney, which has won 13 District 9 Class AAA titles in a row.
“That’s a tough way to start out, four of the best teams right off the bat,” Lansberry said.
Central and Huntingdon finished in a dead heat with Philipsburg-Osceola for first place in the ML at 9-5 last year, with Bald Eagle Area one game back and Clearfield and Bellefonte tied for fifth at 7-7. Bellefonte went on to win the PIAA Class AAA championship.
The Bison will play Curwensville twice, DuBois, Brookville and Bradford in other non-league games.
Lansberry, whose record is 587-407-3, is assisted on the varsity level by Brandon Billotte (13th year) and Chris Peacock (12th).
Sean Zimmerman (3rd), Dave Learish (3rd), Derek Danver (2nd) and Brian Barr are working with the junior varsity.
Ed Yeager (28th) and Donnie Shimmel (27th) are volunteer coaches.
“That’s a good crew of coaches I have,” Lansberry said. “They all are knowledgeable and caring individuals who also are good teachers.”
Orsich, one of four seniors last year, closed his career with a deceiving 13-6 record, as he registered a 1.90 ERA for 33 appearances, including 21 starts and 16 complete games. An All-ML Second Team selection as a junior and a sophomore, the right-hander allowed 142 hits and 43 earned runs in 158-2/3 innings while compiling 134 strikeouts and just 22 walks.
Second baseman Justin Fedder enjoyed a breakout season with a .294 average, an 11-game hitting streak and 15 stolen bases without being caught, while first baseman Logan Lykens hit .296 and left fielder Jon Trimpey hit .250 with 10 RBIs.
The roster, with (*) indicating lettermen:
Seniors – Tommy Hazel (*), of, p; Will Myers (*), if, p; Thayne Morgan (*), if, p; Zane Morgan (*), c; Jarrit Wagner, 1b.
Juniors – Seth Bumbarger (*), 1b; Alex Coval, of, c; Jon Gates, if; Alec Graham, of, if; Wyatt Porter, if, p, c; Jake Sorbera (*), p, of, if; Reese Wilson (*), of, p.
Sophomores – Ty Bender (*), of, c; Eli Glass (*), if, p.
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The schedule, with (ML) for Mountain League games, home games in capitals and starting times 4:30 p.m. unless noted:
27 – CENTRAL (ML); 30 – at Huntingdon (ML).
4 – at Bellefonte (ML); 6 – PUNXSUTAWNEY; 7 – TYRONE (ML); 10 – BALD EAGLE AREA (ML); 11 – CURWENSVILLE; 13 – PENNS VALLEY (ML); 17 – at Central (ML), 1 p.m.; 18 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 24 – HUNTINGDON (ML); 27 – BELLEFONTE (ML); 28 – BROOKVILLE.
1 – at Bradford, 4 p.m.; 2 – at Tyrone (ML); 5 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML); 8 – at Penns Valley (ML); 9 – at Curwensville, 4:15 p.m.; 11 – PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (ML); 15 – at DuBois.