South Fayette baseball coach James Barton isn’t worried about the jump up to Class AAA.
With what the Lions have coming back, it’s not as though the confidence is unwarranted.
South Fayette returns six starters from a team that reached the WPIAL Class AA semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals, three that were All-Section 1-AA performers a season ago in infielder Aaron Fonner, outfielder Mike Fetchet and pitcher Zach Walker.
“I don’t think it will be much of an issue for us,” Barton said of bumping up a classification. “I think other teams will have a little deeper pitching staffs; in Class AA, you usually faced one or two good pitchers, then after that, teams are fishing for someone who will be consistent.
“But we’re used to playing stiff competition. A lot of my kids play AAU and travel ball. They’re used to the high level of talent. I think the pitching depth on the other teams will be a little bit better, but I don’t see why we can’t compete.”
While Barton might not lack for confidence, the results are there.
Since he took over in 2008, South Fayette has made the playoffs all five seasons. The Lions won Section 1-AA with a 12-2 record last spring. They averaged 7.4 runs per game.
This year, South Fayette will slide into a section – 3-AAA – alongside Chartiers Valley, Keystone Oaks, Trinity, McGuffey and Waynesburg, with the first three garnering plenty of preseason attention.
“Over the years we’ve had some success, and I think my kids know how to approach the games,” Barton said. “We have some good kids. I don’t have any expectations except for the boys to win baseball games.”
South Fayette should be strong when it comes to pitching, with the staff anchored by Walker. Junior Jake Quattro will also see plenty of innings, as both possess excellent off-speed pitches and consistently sit in the 84-85 mph range.
Mike Fetchet has a ton of ability but is short on experience, Barton said. But Friday, Fetchet threw a one-hitter to lift the Lions to a win over Independence (Tenn.) High
“If he can be consistent, that will be huge,” Barton said of Fetchet.
One situation Barton is still tinkering with is who will catch. He has thought about using Walker, though admitted, “We’re in a situation where you have to rob Peter to pay Paul.”
Barton has also considered shifting Fonner from shortstop to catch, but feels that would hurt the quality of his infield. One option may be the emergence of sophomore pitchers Jake Wyland and Logan Sharp.
“They’ll get time,” Barton said. “But I don’t know what I’m going to get with them throwing strikes. They throw in the 80s also. If those two kids hit the strike zone, that will allow me to have Zach catch a little bit more.”
South Fayette beat Steel Valley and Laurel before losing to Ellwood City, 14-11, in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals a season ago. The Lions rebounded and were cruising in the PIAA Class AA playoffs … until Tyler Falk’s two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth produced a 5-4 win for Riverside and ended South Fayette’s season.
“This group has sniffed success, but we haven’t cashed in,” Barton said. “Mike Fetchet and Aaron Fonner have been on varsity since they were freshmen. Our guys have been through the ups and downs, and they want to win a state title. Will it happen? I don’t know. But I think we have just as good of a chance as anybody.”