East Xtra: Experienced Jeannette battles for section title
April 18, 2013 4:00 AM
Jeannette's Zack Altieri slides back to second base while Steel Valley's Sean McShane awaits the throw.
Jeannette catcher Michael Wise awaits the throw while Steel Valley's Pat Jobes digs for home during a game last week.
By Nicholas Tolomeo Tri-State Sports & News Service
After reaching the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals in 2010, the Jeannette baseball team has struggled in Class AA the past two years winning only five total section contests and finishing in sixth place both years.
This year the Jayhawks are looking acclimated to Class AA play. They won their first four games this season including three section games. After only winning three section games in 2011 and two in 2012, Jeannette (4-2, 3-2) is well ahead of pace this season.
They are two games behind Shady Side Academy (8-1, 5-0) in the Class AA Section 4 standings, after losing to the Indians, 9-7, Tuesday.
The Jayhawks biggest asset this season is experience. For the first time in his 10 years at the school coach Marcus Clarkson returned his entire lineup from the prior season.
"I have never had a year like last year with no seniors," Clarkson said. "We have the whole group back and everybody is contributing."
Experience has helped Jeannette make up for a lack of depth. Clarkson generally only plays 10 players per game.
"We are definitely not deep," Clarkson said.
Senior Garrett Elliott is the team's ace pitcher. He bats third in the lineup and plays in the infield when he is not pitching. Elliott is a team captain.
Senior Jordan Edmunds has been one of the top bats in the lineup. He plays second base and is another captain. Edmunds is batting .466 with four doubles and a triple. Junior catcher Michael Wise bats cleanup and is also hitting .466 with a team-high six RBIs with two doubles and a triple.
Wise and senior Jordan Navelanko are the other two captains.
"We are playing well defensively and our captains are showing great leadership," Clarkson said.
Sophomore shortstop Zack Altieri bats leadoff and is also hitting .466 with four stolen bases. Sophomore Tony Mash bats fifth and is hitting .571. Mash pitches and plays center field when Elliott pitches. Sophomore third baseman Shawn Poth is batting a team-high .667 from the six-hole. He has three doubles this season.
Junior right fielder Matt Howard, senior pitcher/outfielder Colton Gnesda and Navelanko round out the lineup.
"What has surprised me the most is the hitting," Clarkson said. "The bottom of the lineup is really hitting the ball, they are having great at-bats and that helps the top of the lineup."
Freshman Jimmy Mallick is another pitcher in the Jeannette rotation. Clarkson had previously coached Mallick in Junior American Legion baseball.
"We've had a couple guys ineligible and a lot of younger guys have stepped up," Clarkson said. "Jimmy Mallick has pitched well for us."
Jeannette got off to a strong start in section play with a 4-3 win against Southmoreland at home. With numerous weather problems forcing cancellations of non-section games, the Southmoreland game was Jeannette's first of the season.
"The first section game against Southmoreland was a hard-fought win," Clarkson said. "We've had to move guys around this season but we had a strong nucleus coming in. We are hitting the ball well and playing defense, that makes it easier on me as a coach."
Jeannette was upset by East Allegheny, 10-0, Monday before dropping that 9-7 decision to Shady Side Academy Tuesday. The Jayhawks will visit Greensburg Central Catholic today.
"The difference between Single-A and Double-A is not that much," Clarkson said. "I was part of the staff when we were in Single-A. I don't think it is all that much different to be honest. You are still going to run into good teams."