Abington Heights and Lackawanna Trail both have lofty goals as they enter the start of the 2014 baseball season.
The Comets advanced to last year’s PIAA Class AAA semifinals and while they lost several key members of the team to graduation, they return an experienced group, including their top two pitchers.
Lackawanna Trail was defeated by Old Forge in the District 2 Class A title game last season and returns nine players with varsity experience. If they can account for the loss a few keys players, the Lions may be able to exceed last season’s success.
Starting pitcher Dave Manasek, who has verbally committed to Division I Fordham University, returns to anchor the Comets pitching staff. Junior Tyler Ksiazek also pitched in several big games last season, including the District 2 title win over Valley View.
Senior catcher Scott Salman, senior first baseman Justin Porpiglia, senior left fielder Brad Smertz, and senior third baseman Matt Heckman return as starters for Abington Heights. Seniors Sean O’Connor and Kyle Tierney also started as various times in the outfield last season.
Junior Zach Manasek is expected to contribute as a pitcher/first baseman/outfielder, junior Matt McDonald as a pitcher/infielder, sophomore Sam Arnold as a infielder, and junior Eric Salerno as an outfielder.
The team must replace shortstop/pitcher Kevin Elwell, second baseman/pitcher Dante Pasqualichio, and center fielder Josh Slocum.
According to head coach Bill Zalewski, the success of the club will hinge on their ability to bond .
“It will depend on how we all come together as a team,” Zalewski said. “The guys we lost were a big part of our program. They were our three captains and leaders. We’re replacing the middle of our defense as well as our 3, 4, and 5 hitters in our lineup. Replacing their bats will be a big test.”
The elite competition the Comets will face in their division won’t make the transition for the new players any easier. According to Zalewski, each team (Scranton, Scranton Prep, Valley View and West Scranton) all pose a threat.
“Our league is really tough,” Zalewski said. “There are so many guys going to Division I schools that it prepares you for the playoff run, you’re tested every time you go out there. There are also so many good teams in our district that if you have one bad game, you could be out. We want to be able to stay in ballgames and hopefully be on top at the end.
“We’re very excited for the season and the kids are working hard,” he said.
Abington Heights is scheduled to open their season April 3 at home vs. Scranton Prep at 4:30 p.m.
The ace of the pitching staff, senior Matt Flynn, returns along with junior shortstop Liam Dougherty, who missed last season with an injury.
Senior pitcher/outfielder Jon Zedar, junior catcher Cooper Rosiak, senior pitcher/outfielder Brian Tuft, junior pitcher/infielder Jason Guthrie, senior second baseman Billy Lee, junior first baseman Jared Phillips, senior outfielder Brian Kearney, and junior catcher/infielder Jordan Hannon are all expected to contribute this season.
The Lions must replace three starters: shortstop Ben McLaughlin, pitcher/second baseman Pete Murazzi, and center fielder Vic Rosa.
“We lost some key guys, so other guys, who don’t have a lot of varsity experience, need to step up and fill some of those roles,” Lackawanna Trail head coach Todd Peters said. “Defense is always big, we will need to make the routine plays and stay focused on making the right play all the time.”
Peters expects the team to work hard throughout the season to improve.
“I want to see us get better every game and, hopefully, get back to the district championship game, and win it,” he said. “We’re starting behind, just like everyone else, due to weather, but we’d like to make a statement in league play.”
According to Peters, Mountain View and Montrose and usually the top threats in the division but Blue Ridge and Forest City are also teams on the rise.
“We can’t overlook anybody in our league,” he said.
The Lions are scheduled to open their league season on April 3 at Susquehanna at 4:30 p.m.