Baseball season never really ended for a lot of the region's top high school players.
Soon after the conclusion of the local scholastic schedule, area players quickly returned to district diamonds to compete in the Western Pennsylvania Elite Baseball League this summer.
"Baseball is baseball, and you're always ready to play," said Ryan Cox, who recently graduated from Hopewell and lives in Raccoon Township. "This is fun to compete with and against good friends."
Cox is one of nine players from Beaver County playing for the Sports Zone Express White Sox in the 10-team, 18-and-under league.
"This is the toughest competition around, especially when we play in tournaments," said Cox, who also is committed to St. Bonaventure University.
"We're playing against a lot of recruited guys going to Division I teams next year, but it's a lot of fun to compete against them."
Cox's Hopewell teammate, Tim Hughes, as well as Quaker Valley's Jake Pilewicz, Beaver Area's Austin Ross and Jon Hill, Rochester's Todd Weischedel, Quigley's Zach Chinchilla, New Brighton's Jake Debo and Tyler St. Espirit are some of the local players representing the New Brighton-based Sports Zone Baseball Academy.
"We're getting back into the swing of things since our high school season ended," said Hughes, a West Liberty recruit who also lives in Raccoon Township. "We've been playing well together. The majority of us have been playing together for a few years now and we're having a lot of fun playing on the same team again."
The 18-under Express White Sox posted a 4-4 start in the WPEBL and were 13-6 overall after competing in non-league games and traveling tournaments around Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"The core of this team has been playing together since they were 13," said coach Pat Cutshall, who is a Blackhawk graduate. "This is a great group of kids, and they're playing well right now.
"We're off to a slow start in our league but as the season goes on, I'm sure we're going to be fine."
Cutshall's team opened its schedule by winning the Battle on the Border Tournament last month in Youngstown, Ohio. The team went 5-1 during the weekend event and won three consecutive games on June 9 to capture the championship.
"These guys all are high school stars who played on competitive teams during the school year," Cutshall said. "This is a big summer for a lot of these kids. We want to see them continue to progress as players and get them ready for the fall when they go off to college.
"For a lot of them, who will be playing college ball, it's going to be the first time in a long time that they're going to have to compete for a job and playing time. We want them to use this summer as a time to prepare for the fall."
Cutshall's team also features some WPIAL all-stars, including North Allegheny's Justin Datillo, Jimmy Divosevic and James Meeker, as well as Kevin Begley from Deer Lakes.
"A lot of us are still regrouping from our long high school season," said Chinchilla, an IUP recruit who lives in Economy. "We've still done well so far, but we're looking to continue to get good results.
"We're playing against very good competition, but our attitude is the same as it's always been. We just want to keep getting better."
Chinchilla along with Ross, Meeker and Fox Chapel's Chad Bartlett make up the team's starting pitching rotation.
"We have a very good pitching staff and one I believe is one of the best in the league," Cutshall said. "Our biggest issue is going to be consistency. It all starts with our starting pitching and we have to get this group comfortable with a rotation."
The 10-team league also consists of the Allegheny Tigers, Pittsburgh Miners, Pittsburgh Spikes, Steel Valley Wildcats, North Allegheny, Independent Players, Sports Zone Lookouts (17-under), Seneca Valley Palomino and Steel City Select.
The Express White Sox will continue league competition until July 11 when they take a break to travel to Columbus, Ohio, for the Buckeye Elite Tournament.
"There are a lot of good teams in the league," Cutshall said. "The Steel City Wildcats are undefeated and have a lot of the top talent. There are a lot of quality teams with a lot of quality coaches in this league.
"We have a lot of phenomenal competition right now."