North Xtra: New coach has North Hills believing it can win

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Having the belief you can win is perhaps the first step to actually doing it, but try telling that to a group of teenage baseball players who won just twice last season.

Such is the case with North Hills, a team that went 2-14-1 a year ago.

"They have to learn how to win games," first-year coach Randy Miller said. "We have a great group of seniors, a great group of young men. There's some confidence coming."

And the wins are coming, too.

Nobody is saying North Hills will compete for a WPIAL championship this season, and there's a chance the Indians might not make the playoffs. But the fact is this North Hills team appears to be considerably better than last season and making a serious push for a postseason bid is looking like a realistic goal. Their 7-4 start (3-1 in Class AAAA Section 1) is a testament to that.

"Them knowing that they have already more than doubled the win total from last year helps me be able to get them to believe in themselves," Miller said.

North Hills equaled last year's win output by beating two teams in Florida to begin the season. The Indians also own victories against Shaler Area and Allderdice, two schools with strong baseball traditions.

The Indians opened Section 1 play at two-time defending WPIAL champion Seneca Valley last week, losing 10-4, but bounced back to defeat Fox Chapel, 8-7, Friday.

They defeated Butler Area, 10-5, Monday and topped New Castle, 8-2, Tuesday and are scheduled to play at North Allegheny today.

The five-day trip to Florida was important for North Hills on the field and off. In addition to playing games in Fort Pierce and Vero Beach, the Indians got to know their new coach better on a personal level. Miller spent the previous five seasons as head coach at North Catholic.

"They're trying to figure me out and I'm trying to figure out them," Miller said. "It was a great trip and the guys got a lot of work in."

North Hills has been led by junior Josh Kaminski, the Indians starting catcher and also one of their top pitchers. Kaminski bats leadoff and owned a team-best .450 batting average entering the week.

"He's a workhorse," Miller said. "The kid works his butt off. That's for sure. As well as all of them. It probably sounds cliché, but it's a great group of kids."

The Indians are a veteran group with five seniors who have made their way into the starting lineup. They include first baseman Cameron Lawson, second baseman T.J. Winkler, shortstop Kenny Knight, center fielder James Molnar and right fielder Mark Hollis.

Also, fellow seniors Eric Brimmeier and Nick Lisanti are two of the main pitchers.

In a 14-2, five-inning victory against Allderdice April 5, Winkler had three RBIs, and Molnar and Hollis each had two.

"We have eight seniors who have been in the program whom we're really relying on for leadership," Miller said. "We let them know, 'You only get one senior year.' I want to make sure these seniors go out with a good senior year."

Two of the team's top hitters have been junior third baseman Adam Serpa and junior Kevin Koch, who splits time at second base with Winkler.

Junior Chad Meyer is the starting left fielder and also pitches. Meyer picked up the win and struck out six against Allderdice.

The offense has been up and down. In their first seven games, the Indians scored 14 and 11 in two of them, but averaged four runs per contest in the other five.

"We've been waiting to bunch some hits together," Miller said. "Some games we haven't come up with the clutch, two-out hit. We're trying to eliminate strikeouts, put the ball in play and move runners up."

North Hills last made the WPIAL playoffs in 2007. The Indians last had a winning season in 2010, the second of consecutive seasons in which they finished 11-7.

Miller said he likes where his team is at this point of the season and expects things to only get better from here.

"I couldn't have come into a better situation," he said. "Now we're starting to execute and get some production.

"The kids are believing in themselves."



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