North Xtra: Pine-Richland grad working to improve baseball skills

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Summer is a time for trying new things ... and new bats.

At least, that's the case for Pine-Richland High School graduate Shea Sullivan and the Pittsburgh Pandas, a wooden-bat summer league team that plays in the Tri-State Collegiate League.

The Pandas, who play their home games at La Roche College, are compiled of college players from all divisions, most of whom attend school in Western Pennsylvania. Some, such as Sullivan, go to college farther away.

Sullivan finished his freshman season at Eastern Kentucky University and is using his summer to improve a few aspects of his game before he returns to school. One of the pluses of the summer league is that it forces hitters to swing wooden bats--the same kind the pros use--unlike the metal ones that high school and college players use.

"[I'm] getting used to using a wood bat and just getting my swing a lot better for my sophomore year," Sullivan said.

Before a scheduled game Wednesday, the Pandas (17-9) had played 26 games, but Sullivan has only been able to appear in nine of them.

"I haven't really been able to play too much because I've been battling an injury," he said.

Throughout this past spring season, he felt some pain in his right hip. It didn't prevent him from playing, but was always present. His swing wasn't affected and he played designated hitter for much of the first part of the summer season, before taking several games off to totally recover.

"It was a minor hip injury and it was bothersome when I was running. Nothing really that stopped me from playing. Just had to get it back to 100 percent, so it wouldn't bother me anymore," he said.

The injury and the use of wooden bats must not be bothering him too much. He's hitting .364 and has 11 RBIs in nine games.

"During the school season, I ended on a hot note and I guess I just took that into summer ball," he said.

The Pandas will play a doubleheader at the Ohio Glaciers Saturday and return home Sunday for a doubleheader starting at noon against Shannon Fence. The league schedule runs until the end of July.

For the Division I EKU Colonels, Sullivan batted .314 (33-for-105), good enough to earn him a spot on the Ohio Valley Conference All-Freshman team, but it was a season of ups-and-downs for this outfielder.

"I played really well in the fall," he said. "I started off hot, got in a little bit of a slump and got benched a little, but when I got my second chance, I took advantage of it."

For Sullivan, this summer is about learning the trade of using a wooden bat, as well as mastering some more advanced aspects of hitting.

"I'm just working on hitting off-speed pitches and staying balanced with them," he said.

Beyond that, he's just happy to be home and enjoying a low-stress summer league.

"It's just nice seeing everyone from back home and not having to travel a ton during the summer like we did during the [school] season."

Sullivan does have professional aspirations and hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow Pine-Richland graduates Neil Walker and Blake Lalli, who have both played in the major leagues.

When he's not playing in the summer league, he's hitting with former high school teammates.

Of playing professionally, Sullivan said: "That would be nice.

If he keeps hitting as well as he has with wooden bats, that opportunity may very well arise.

Hayes Gardner: and @HayesGardner.

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