West Xtra: Moon handling a step up in competition quite well


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The WPIAL moved to four classifications in baseball in 2005, the same year Dom Santeufemio took over as coach at Moon Area High School.

Moon has been one of the top programs in the WPIAL in that time, but all of the Tigers' success has come at the Class AAA level.

This season the Tigers have had to deal with a challenging "changeup."

Playing in Class AAAA for the first time, it's Moon that is feeling a little out of this world. It's not that the Tigers aren't playing well, because they are. It's just that they have yet to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings.

Santeufemio, who has guided Moon to the WPIAL playoffs in seven of his eight previous seasons, said the change of scenery is actually more of a positive than a negative.

"I think it's to our advantage because we don't know what to expect. The kids are playing loose," Santeufemio said. "Other years, we were expected to win. This group, we don't have any expectations because we're dealing with the unknown. We don't know if this team can play at this level, but we're going to find out."

So far, Santeufemio has to like the results. Moon was 4-1 prior to playing Penn Hills at home Wednesday. The Tigers won, 11-10, at Woodland Hills in their Section 4 opener on Monday.

Moon has looked a lot like the Tigers teams that went 115-64 in Class AAA from 2005-2012. Through Monday's game, the Tigers had outscored their opponents, 39-17. Included in that run were consecutive shutout victories against Seneca Valley and Ambridge last Thursday and Friday. Seneca Valley is the two-time defending WPIAL champion and was ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA at the time.

Santeufemio called this the deepest pitching staff he has had during his tenure at Moon, which won the WPIAL championship in 2009 and was the runner-up in 2005 and 2010.

"Even when we won WPIALs, we had two horses and a closer," Santeufemio said. "Those guys were giving us six innings every time. Here I would say we have probably seven or eight guys who can get outs for us. It's just a matter of who and when. If one guy isn't doing it, we're bringing in the next guy."

The pitching staff is headed by senior left-hander Vinnie Garuccio and senior right-handers Myles Schmidt and Andy Grace. Sophomore right-hander Colton Hower is the team's closer. Garuccio is recovering from a left elbow injury sustained when he got hit with a line drive at an indoor practice last month.

"He's back throwing now," Santeufemio said. "He can be special if we can get him back. He's probably our top dog."

Grace is one of Moon's most important players. He's been impressive on the mound -- he tossed a one-hitter in a 4-0 win against Ambridge Friday -- and is also the starting catcher. Santeufemio called him the best defensive catcher he has had.

Santeufemio thinks one of his team's strengths is its defense up the middle. Along with Grace, Moon starts sophomore Rocco Maue at second base, junior Josh Bogats at shortstop, and Hower in center field.

"We have pitching and defense. If we can hit, we can be very good," Santeufemio said.

Senior first baseman Coul Koegel, the team's leading hitter last season, and senior third baseman Josh Knupp round out the infield.

In the outfield, the Tigers start Hower in center field, senior left fielder Nick Casasanta and a platoon of sophomore Kyle Bondi and junior Ron Yardas in right field. Junior Mason Prickett is the designated hitter.

Moon is hungry to get back to the playoffs after missing out last season when the Tigers finished 9-11 overall and 6-8 in Class AAA Section 1. The Tigers have nine seniors this season.

"We feel like we're a better team," Santeufemio said.

For a team that is still getting acquainted with its new environment, this is an important week. The Tigers are scheduled to play their third section game of the week today at Pine-Richland.

"You just go in and say 'Whatever happens happens,'" Santeufemio said. "We'll all have a better feel when we play these teams the second time around."



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