South Xtra: West Mifflin thinks small, wins

AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL

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The West Mifflin American Legion baseball team has generally been a "small-ball" team for the past five seasons under coaches Steve Kovac and Tom Simcho.

So with a ban on certain bats in American Legion play -- bats that caused a "trampoline effect" on the baseball -- it ultimately lead to less power for teams on offense. It made sense that West Mifflin would stick with the "small-ball" mentality.

West Mifflin did just that, but a weird thing also happened this season. West Mifflin actually hit eight home runs, more than last season when the team was using composite bats that were more conducive to the long ball.

Combine the West Mifflin team's small-ball ability to manufacture runs along with the eight home runs and you get a 14-7 regular-season record after losing a tough 5-4 decision to Peters Township Tuesday.

With the Allegheny South playoffs scheduled to start Saturday, West Mifflin will enter as the league's No. 3 seed in the eight-team playoff field.

Although the team's eight home runs may have surprised Kovac, the aggressive play of his team did not. They had 49 stolen bases and 20 sacrifice hits.

"We bunt a lot, we steal a lot," Kovac said. "We do a lot of things other teams don't even think of. We are a small-ball team and we try to manufacture a lot. We are a hard team to handle. Sometimes [opponents] are not prepared."

It was, indeed, difficult for opponents to prepare for West Mifflin's aggressive running game. Zach Lapko led the team with 12 stolen base and Zach Fodor stole 11.

Kovac hopes the small-ball mentality will help his team in the double-elimination county playoffs, where his team is bound to face top-of-the-line pitchers.

"You would hope this style of play will help us because sometimes you run into a good pitcher," Kovac said.

Except nobody told that to cleanup hitter and center fielder Everett Lasko and designated hitter Danny Howard who hits behind Lasko. Lasko led the team with four home runs while Howard had three.

"You don't see home runs any more with the new bats and we have eight of them, that is just ridiculous," Kovac said. "Those two, Everett and Danny, they have power I am jealous of."

Lasko recently graduated from West Mifflin while Howard, a baseball player and wrestler at West Mifflin, is a rising sophomore.

"Danny has crazy power, just insane for a sophomore," Kovac said. "Everett is hands down one of our best players. He is smart, quick, he fields well and he hits well. He can do it all."

West Mifflin's No. 3 hitter, Ryan Kandsberger, had a big year offensively as well. He batted .292 with a team-high 18 RBIs. He will be a junior in the fall.

"He is special," Kovac said. "He is going to be a special player. He has a high motor and he hustles all the time."

Another top bat is shortstop Zack Miller, a rising senior. Batting second in the lineup, he is hitting a team-best .459 with 9 RBIs and 9 stolen bases.

"He has been on a tear," Kovac said. "He is a solid defender and he has been really working on his bunting."

This season the pitching staff has been anchored by Jason Milko (7-2, 2.35 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 38 innings), Bill Minnick (4-2, 2.86 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 41 innings) and Pat Lynch (1-0, 3.27 ERA, 14 strikeouts in 15 innings).

West Mifflin hung with the top seed in the league, Peters Township, in their first meeting before losing, 6-3. It entered its regular-season finale against Peters Township riding a three-game winning streak with victories against Elizabeth and a weekend sweep of Bethel Park.

It was Bethel Park last season that denied West Mifflin a special summer. The team went 20-4 and earned the No. 1 seed in the playoffs but three of its four losses came to Bethel Park, including two in the double-elimination tournament.

"That was supposed to be the best team we ever had," Kovac said. "We had six college kids, but we couldn't get past Bethel Park."

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