Lineup cards almost have become a "puzzle" of sorts for Mike Palmer.
In his first season managing the Chartiers Valley/South Fayette American Legion baseball team, Palmer carries an 18-man roster but only has been able to work with a little more than half as many players.
"We're only getting about nine or 10 guys showing up for our games," Palmer said. "It's tough in the summer with guys going on family vacations, working jobs and playing for other travel teams.
"So I'm moving guys all over the place. It's hard for me to say who starts at a certain position because I've started three or four guys at almost every position."
Through its first 11 games, CV/SF posted a 4-6-1 record against Allegheny West League competition.
"The big thing about this team is that we play with a never-say-die attitude," said Palmer, who himself is somewhat of a youngster, having graduated from Chartiers Valley in 2008 and played baseball for the Colts before continuing his baseball career at Point Park University. "We've played in a lot of high-scoring games, and many of those games we've trailed by four or five runs at some point.
"But we always seem to come back. It's funny because no matter how many runs we're down, we always stay in the game and make it close in the end."
With exception of South Fayette's Dylan Witt and Bishop Canevin's Jay Joseph, the rest of Palmer's group attends Chartiers Valley High School and played a contributing role on the Colts' varsity baseball team this past spring. Six members of the Legion team just graduated from Chartiers Valley this spring and eight will be seniors in the upcoming academic year.
"Everyone feels comfortable playing together," said Palmer, who took over the program after serving as an assistant for Dave Mulvihill last summer. "This is not like it's a team full of strangers. Even the kids who don't go to Char Valley are still from the area and everyone grew up playing together since they were younger."
Chartiers Valley's varsity team went 9-5 in Section 3-AAA and finished third behind Thomas Jefferson and South Park this past spring. The Colts finished their season at 15-7 after losing to Blackhawk in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
"We expected to have a pretty good season because we had a lot of the same guys returning from last year," Palmer said. "These are the same guys who are coming off playing varsity and bring that experience, too.
"You're always going to have holes to fill, but we knew we would have some experienced players coming back."
Eric Hart, Mike Teti and Mike Thomas have provided quality outings as Palmer's starting pitchers.
"Mike Teti has been huge for us at this point," Palmer said. "He doesn't just come in and strike everybody out; he gets guys to put the ball in play and works to get the outs.
"He's a guy you can bring in and he shuts down the other team."
Third baseman/outfielder Tyler Prevost, second baseman Evan Kinslow, outfielder/first baseman Matt Palmer and infielder/outfielder Jimmy Palmer add depth defensively and pitch in relief, while both Jim Haley and Jon Kletzli share catching duties. The two Palmer brothers are the younger siblings of the manager.
Offensively, Palmer has been pleased with second baseman Brian Jennings and Witt.
"They're both hitting well," Palmer said. "It's like every time either of them steps to the plate, they come up with a hit."
The defending regular-season league champion last season, CVSF went 12-6 overall in the Allegheny West League and lost to Keystone Oaks twice during the double-elimination playoffs.
Originally set as a 10-team league before CIT dropped its team, the Allegheny West consists of CV/SF, Moon, West Allegheny, Sto-Rox, Houston, Mount Washington, Sewickley, Carrick and Keystone Oaks.
"The competition we've faced has been pretty good," Palmer said. "We lost two out of three games against Keystone Oaks, but we fought until the very end in those games. Keystone Oaks has a lot of guys who played varsity, so it was like a [high school] section game for our guys."
With the second half of the season approaching, Palmer hopes to see his players continue to improve fundamentally and make another run in the postseason.
"The playoffs are always a possibility if you continue to get better with each game," Palmer said.
"I don't like to complicate things. If we have a good offense, continue to have good pitching and play good defense, it's going to be tough to beat that."hsbaseball