Players trying to build off last season

Bobby Scott, Sports Editor

The Pitt-Johnstown’s baseball team inaugural season in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference has begun as the Mountain Cats played their first game last Saturday.

The conference additions of Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill University make for lopsided divisions as both schools are in the west.

This gives teams in the western division a disadvantage as there are nine teams compared with the eastern division with only seven teams.

The top four teams in each division make conference playoffs, which means eastern teams have a 57 percent chance of making it, while western teams have only a 44 percent chance.

The Mountain Cats go into a conference that sent three of the six teams that competed Atlantic Super Regionals last spring.

“The conference is a much better conference (than the team’s former West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference),” senior catcher Kyle Morrow said.

“We are playing tough teams early in the season to get ready for our conference schedule, also.”

Morrow hit four home runs and drove in 31 runs last season with a .350 batting average.

He said in the last three seasons, the (Pennsylvania) conference has had more teams go to the Super Regionals, the (division II College) World Series and have more players drafted than the (West Virginia) conference.

One of three other super regional teams not in the (Pennsylvania) conference was Seton Hill, now a conference member along with Pitt-Johnstown.

East Stroudsburg University is the defending conference champions, they were ousted in the super regionals.

Shippensburg University was the team with the lasting impression throughout the conference as they won the Atlantic Super Regional, which earned them a spot in the World Series.

This is all in comparison to Pitt-Johnstown’s former (W. Va.) conference, which had its only conference championship winner make it to the Super Regionals.

Not only are the Mountain Cats joining a statistically superior conference, but they are coming in with a 2-year playoff drought.

The team finished 27-19 overall last season and missed a playoff spot by two games.

“We are extremely focused and ready to compete every weekend and make it to the conference tournament,” Morrow said.

Last year was the first time the team completed a season with a winning record since 2010, when the finished 30-18 overall.

How well the lineup hit the ball played a critical role in the team’s winning ways.

Senior second baseman Jake Warner led the team in average (.420), hits (74) and runs batted in (40) among six other batting statistics.

Jeff Campbell led the team in home runs (5) and triples (5), was graduated after last season but is the only piece from the lineup as he was one of only three seniors on the team.

The Mountain Cats outdid their opponents in every batting statistical category including outscoring the opposition by 71 runs and had 90 more hits.

The team had two starting pitchers over 10 games and only six pitchers make over 10 appearances.

The arms that were trusted the heaviest were starting right-handed pitchers Derek Younker and John Fees.

Younker pitched over 71 innings, recorded 41 strikeouts (second best on the team) and put up an 8-4 record.

Fees led the team in strikeouts with 43 in only 49 innings pitched and compiled a 5-3 record in 11 appearances.

“We want to improve on last year’s record (and we plan on) making it to the postseason,” Fees said.

“We are feeling confident in the group of guys we have on the team.”

Fees said that, in order for team to get to the conference tournament, they will have to work at getting better every day, mostly on defense.

“We need to improve on our defensive game, primarily the pitching,” he said.

“We need to lower our overall earned-run average from last year to help us be a more competitive team.”

Fees said that batting could be something the team will shine in.

“One of our biggest strengths is our hitting and we also have around 11 returning starters,” he said.