This season is going to be a little different for the Serra Catholic High School baseball team.
Unlike the past few years, the Eagles won't be able to rely on ace pitcher Alain Girman.
A star left-hander, Girman finished his high school career tied for the most wins in WPIAL history with a 31-2 career record. He has graduated and now is pitching at Mount St. Mary's University, a Division I program in Emmitsburg, Md.
"The guys are sort of playing with a chip on their shoulders," Serra Catholic coach Brian Dzurenda said. "A lot of people have already written this team off, thinking Girman was all we had.
"But I think this team knows better than that and believes it can compete this season."
Despite the uncooperative weather, the Eagles (3-0) have been able to squeeze in three non-section games, picking up a 10-2 win against Saltsburg before knocking off California, 4-1, then routing East Allegheny, 15-0, on Tuesday. The victory against California was noteworthy. The Trojans entered the season as the Post-Gazette's No. 3-ranked team in Class A.
"We're off to a good start," said Dzurenda, who enters his 14th season as head coach at his alma mater. "I am pleasantly surprised at how well we've played with the new group of kids. We still have five kids left from our state championship team two years ago, so they know how to win. Their preparation during the offseason was tremendous."
A perennial small-school baseball power under Dzurenda, Serra Catholic made three consecutive trips to the Class A state title game before last season. After winning a PIAA crown in 2011, the Eagles finished their 2012 campaign 13-6 after losing to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
"What excites me the most about this team is how hard these kids have worked," Dzurenda said. "We have great team unity. We have a renewed effort here to get back to the glory years we've had.
"It all starts with playing for a section title and maybe a WPIAL championship. We have good hitting, our pitching is coming along and our infield is second to none. We have quality infielders and we're still going to tinker with our outfielders before we get into section play."
Despite the loss of Girman, Dzurenda returns a pair of reliable arms in seniors Wayne Hydak and Chad Hazaga.
Hydak, a right-hander who also plays first base, threw a complete-game three-hitter during the Eagles' 4-1 win against California on March 23. Hazaga, another righty, went 4-0 last season. He struck out six and walked one batter to pick up the decision against Saltsburg on March 22.
"You don't replace a guy like Alain Girman on the mound," Dzurenda said. "When you lose a guy like that, you lose certain wins. Wayne and Chad both got promising wins so far.
"We knew we would have some experience this year. These guys know about the tradition we have here and the championships. Expectations are still set pretty high, and we believe we can compete with anyone at this level at this point."
Junior shortstop/pitcher Brandon Coddington, sophomore pitcher/infielder Zach Quattrone as well as senior pitcher Dan Popovich, a transfer from McKeesport, also are expected to add depth to the Eagles' pitching staff.
"We're not going to have a one-man pitching show, but we have some horses we can put out there," Dzurenda said.
Senior catcher Dylan Kugler, who earned all-section honors last season, also returns as a veteran presence behind the plate.
In the field, the Eagles will turn to a sophomore-loaded group consisting of first baseman John Fazio, third baseman Parker Janosko, center fielder Dan Guzik, left fielder Dave Glumac and outfielder Martin Slovonic.
"We have a lot of sophomores stepping up, but we still have some senior leaders," Dzurenda said. "Wayne Hydak and Dylan Kugler are our verbal and emotional leaders. They really love and enjoy baseball."
Thanks to realignment within the WPIAL baseball sections, Serra Catholic will compete against Frazier, Geibel Catholic, Monessen and Bishop Canevin in Section 2-A this season. Bishop Canevin entered the Post-Gazette's preseason rankings at the No. 4 team in Class A.
"If our pitching is as good as expected and we see more strikeouts than walks, we should have a say-so as to who is playing at the end of the season," Dzurenda said.