North/East Xtra: Woodland Hills grad gives La Roche a boost

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A baseball career that showed much promise at Woodland Hills High School has blossomed into the real deal for Brian Tougher at La Roche College.

Tougher, a junior infielder, is having an excellent season in helping the Redhawks to a 22-11 record overall and an impressive 11-1 mark in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference before a scheduled AMCC doubleheader Wednesday at Mount Aloysius.

Tougher, who played shortstop or third base during his high school career, has been playing first base for coach Chase Rowe's team this season. He's been putting up some eye-catching numbers at the plate.

He had started 32 of the Redhawks' first 33 games this season, posting a .379 batting average (44 for 116), with 2 home runs, 3 triples, 12 doubles and 33 RBIs, tied for the team lead with Colin Fiekles. He has also drawn 11 walks and has an excellent .451 on-base percentage.

Rowe, in his seventh year as baseball coach at La Roche, is quick to acknowledge the qualities of one of his team leaders.

"As a freshman, Brian was selected AMCC Rookie of the Year and Newcomer of the Year," Rowe said. "His continued hard work and focus has helped build his confidence and turned him into a clutch player."

Rowe noted that this 5-foot-11, 215-pound right-hander is certainly not a finished product.

"He needs to work on conditioning, defense and maturation as a hitter," the veteran Redhawks coach said.

Tougher credits his coach for his offensive effectiveness.

"It's coach Rowe who has helped me get better with the bat," said Tougher, who resides in tiny Chalfant Borough in the east suburbs.

Tougher's hot bat, along with those of several teammates -- notably Fiekles (.472), Colin Williamson (.403), Franzee Barlemas (.398) and John Watson (.388) -- have helped the Redhawks heat up in what has been a cold, damp season.

La Roche had won 10 games in a row (before Wednesday) and 14 of its past 16 while rising to the top of the AMCC standings.

Rowe said he likes the club he sees out on the diamond this year. AMCC champions in 2012 and runners-up last year, he points to this squad "as a real contender."

"Come the playoffs, we've been the No. 1 or No. 2 seed the last few years," Rowe said. "This looks like our hardest schedule, but we'll definitely be competitive and hopefully successful."

Tougher's versatility at shortstop and third base as a high school player won him three all-section honors as well as All-WPIAL recognition as a senior.

During Tougher's senior year at Woodland Hills, he was being recruited by several college programs, including Penn State Behrend, Heidelberg and Marietta, a perennial NCAA Division III powerhouse. But he chose La Roche because "it was close to home, and I really liked the program."

That feeling has become mutual for the Redhawks. They are benefitting from his talents, it's just that consistency is difficult to achieve given the erratic schedule the team has had to deal with. Springtime weather in Western Pennsylvania plays havoc with baseball schedules.

One completed game between La Roche and Behrend on March 31 turned out to be a gem. Redhawks pitcher Tyler Ferguson twirled a no-hitter with a personal record of 10 strikeouts while breaking the school record in that same category.

Meanwhile, Tougher and his teammates, hoping for some consistently better weather, will continue to plug away in search of a conference championship and a bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.

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