Peters Township baseball eager to return to playoffs
Peters Township head baseball coach Joe Maize is hoping for a return to the postseason this year.
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The feeling was a strange one for head coach Joe Maize.
Collecting uniforms happens every year for the Peters Township baseball team, but Maize usually doesn’t have to worry about that task until late May or early June.
It rarely happens at the conclusion of the regular season.
Nevertheless, after finishing 9-9 overall, 7-5 in Section 3-AAAA and missing the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs by one game, Maize was forced into action early last May, the first time since 2002 that’s happened.
“As a coach, it was a sick feeling to collect uniforms that early,” Maize said. “We had normally been playing into late May or early June, long enough to get to the good weather. Playing that long was something we were getting used to.”
The Indians, with five starters back, will hope to prevent last year’s trunctuated season – by the Indians’ lofty standards, anyway – from becoming a trend.
Five starting position players and five pitchers who gained varsity experience last year return for Peters Township, which rebounded from an 0-4 start by winning five of six to close the year.
The lone blemish during that stretch was a 7-6 loss to Mt. Lebanon, and it was enough to keep Peters Township in fourth place in Section 3-AAAA.
“We were two pitches away from qualifying,” Maize said. “We lost a heartbreaker to Mt. Lebanon. Win that, and we go, Lebo’s out. Then they wind up reaching the WPIAL championship game.”
Which is somewhere the Indians are plenty familiar with.
Besides winning WPIAL titles in 2007 and ‘08, Peters Township compiled a 146-43 record from 2004-2011, reaching the PIAA playoffs in five of those eight seasons, the state final in 2004 and ‘05.
Senior Chris Watschak headlines the list of returners. Watschak, who hit .270 and had a .426 on-base percentage in 47 at-bats last season, will take care of first base. He’s also a tough, left-handed pitcher as well and went 2-1 with a 3.77 earned-run average and 14 strikeouts in 26 innings last season.
Senior catcher Brett DeCello, junior second baseman Phil Pisarcik, senior shortstop Adam Becker and senior right fielder Matt Loether are the other four returning starters.
Loether had a team-high seven doubles, while Pisarcik hit .346, one of the better batting averages among regulars.
One of the Indians’ biggest problems, Maize said, was winning close games. Eight of Peters Township’s losses were by one run.
“Last year, we were in some tight section games, a lot of critical situations where we didn’t perform the way we had in the past,” Maize said. “We couldn’t get that key base hit and made some defensive mistakes. It didn’t feel like we could win that close ballgame.”
Peters Township will not only have to figure out how to win close games, but it will have to do so without two of the area’s top players last season in pitcher Mike Bittel and outfielder Andrew Erenberg.
Bittel had a 1.70 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings. Erenberg batted .468 while leading the team in runs (15), RBI (22) and extra-base hits (11).
“I challenged the kids after last year,” Maize said. “I think there are a lot of players who will have to step up for us to be successful.”
Peters Township will play in the Cal Ripken Tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. before opening Section 5-AAAA play on April 10 against Brashear. In a section that includes Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon, there won’t exactly be many easy nights at Peterswood Park.
“I think the key for us will be kids accepting roles,” Maize said. “Some are pitchers only, some designated hitters. If I can get them to accept the roles that they have, that will be a big key. Last year that was a problem, so I’m trying to correct that.”
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