Chris Dugan's Sports Column
Busy May awaits Bertagnolli
Who will be the busiest man in Washington County during May?
It might be Rick Bertagnolli.
The veteran coach of the California University women’s softball team, Bertagnolli has the Vulcans (29-4) ranked No. 14 in NCAA Division II and riding a 25-game winning streak. Cal already has wrapped up the PSAC West Division title with a 22-0 record. A doubleheader at Slippery Rock today concludes the regular season.
The Vulcans appear ready to make a deep run in the PSAC tournament, which begins Thursday in Quakertown, and the NCAA tournament that starts May 9.
In addition to coaching a college team in the postseason, Bertagnolli will be busy putting together the roster and preparing the Pennsylvania Rebellion of the National Pro Fastpitch women’s league. Bertagnolli also is manager of the Rebellion, who begin their inaugural season May 30 with a four-game road trip.
• There has been plenty of discussion about which position the Steelers should address in the first round of next month’s NFL draft. A big-play wide receiver for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be nice. A good cover cornerback would help an aging defense. The defensive line has plenty of unknowns that could be addressed in the draft. A young impact player could help at linebacker. The offensive line always seems to be a patchwork unit by October and could use another quality player.
The reality is, when you’re coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons, your roster has plenty of holes. With the exception of quarterback and running back, there’s not a position the Steelers could address with the 15th pick in the first round and significantly and immediately upgrade.
The Steelers would be wise to follow Chuck Noll’s theory of drafting the best player available, regardless of position.
• Jessie Merckle and Dustin Fuller, two former Washington County track and field standouts and PIAA champions, recently turned in record-setting performances.
Merckle, a sophomore at Wake Forest and a former state champion at Fort Cherry, won her second consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title in the javelin. Merckle won the event with a throw of 177-0, the longest throw ever in the ACC Outdoor Championships, breaking the old mark by more than three feet. Merckle became one of only three female athletes in Wake Forest history to win more than one ACC track and field championship in the same event.
Fuller, a former state champion at Washington and now a sophomore at Pitt, helped the Panthers’ 800-meter relay team set the school record Saturday before a crowd of 38,000 at the Penn Relays. The Panthers ran 1:22.66 to finish fifth in the event, which included 51 teams. Fuller was the only non-senior on Pitt’s four-man team in the finals.
• Four student-athletes, including two from Washington County, were recently selected as recipients of WPIAL Scholar-Athlete Awards. Fort Cherry’s Zak Dysert, who was a talented tight end for the Rangers’ high-scoring football team, and Canon-McMillan’s three-sport standout Olivia Lorusso, each will receive $5,000 scholarships that accompany the award.
• The Washington Wild Things begin spring training this week and start their 13th season in the Frontier League May 15 at Florence. It will be interesting to see which team, the Wild Things or Rebellion, wins the turnstile battle at Consol Energy Park.
My guess is it will be the Rebellion.
And it won’t be close.
The Wild Things’ average per-game attendance has dropped six years in a row. Last year, it was a franchise low of 1,707 fans per game, down 34 from 2012. The Wild Things no longer have the novelty factor working in their favor and they haven’t been in the playoffs since 2007.
Many groups who go to CEP once a year are likely to take the been-there-done-that approach to the Wild Things and attend a Rebellion game instead.
• The area will be well-represented in the WPIAL baseball and softball playoffs. Barring any major upsets this week, there could be as many as 11 local teams in the softball playoffs and another 10 in baseball.
• For additional local sports coverage, check out the Varsity Letters blog at www.observer-reporter.com.
Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.