South Xtra: Season has been a picnic so far for South Park

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL


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One would be hard pressed to find a WPIAL baseball team that has soared to as good of a start as the South Park Eagles.

Look up the word "dominant" in the dictionary and you might see a picture of this South Park team next to the listing.

But as impressive as South Park has been, coach Steve Bucci clearly understands what it actually means in the grand scheme of things.

"We're excited about the start. But it's not how we start. It's how we end," Bucci said.

With the second go-round of section play here and (presuming the Eagles qualify) the postseason looming, South Park is aiming for a strong finish, one consisting of winning the Section 4 title and making a run at the WPIAL Class AAA championship.

In the meantime, it's difficult to ignore what South Park has done up to this point. The Eagles, ranked No. 2 in Class AAA behind Hopewell, are 12-0 overall and 5-0 in the section after defeating Belle Vernon Area, 2-0, on Tuesday. They have outscored their opponents by a staggering 139-27.

Through Monday, the Eagles were hitting .407 as a team and boasted a team ERA of 1.91.

Bucci said this about his team's offense: "The beauty of it is it's not one guy. When we put our lineup card together, it's solid 1 through 9. It's a strong, competitive lineup and there aren't any freebies in there."

As for his pitching staff, Bucci said: "Our pitching has been very good. We have a number of guys we can draw from. We're pretty deep there. We tell our guys, 'Just give us a chance to win.'"

This is a veteran team filled with three- and four-year starters. The seniors were part of squads that finished with losing records their first two seasons before putting together a breakthrough season last spring when they went 15-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

The experienced cast is headed by four-year starters Nick Yobbi (a pitcher/outfielder), shortstop Chris Winkler, pitcher/outfielder Randy Dobnak and catcher Justin Dilla. The three-year starters are senior pitcher/second baseman Carter Grote and junior designated hitter Greg Pantuso.

South Park sports a balanced attack, but it also has a star in Yobbi, a Division II South Carolina-Aiken recruit and two-time all-section honoree. Yobbi was hitting a scorching .565 through 11 games and also led the Eagles with a .762 on-base percentage. Oh yeah, he can pitch a little, too. Yobbi is 3-0 with an 0.41 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 17 innings. All of those are team-bests.

Seven regulars are hitting at least .387 and seven have already reached double-digit numbers in RBIs. Four have drawn at least 10 walks, which has contributed to the team's outstanding .563 on-base percentage.

Winkler has a team-high 22 RBIs, while Grote tops the Eagles in runs (21) and home runs (2). Dilla is hitting .517, Winkler .450, Pantuso .423 and senior pitcher/outfielder Jake Bywalski .417.

Yobbi along with Bywalski and Dobnak give South Park three top-notch pitching options. Bywalski is 2-0 with a 1.58 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 131/3 innings. Bywalski also has two saves. Dobnak is 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in 19 innings.

South Park starts junior Shane Fetsko (.393 batting average) at first base and junior Adam Thompson (.308 average and 2-0 pitching record) in the outfield. Senior pitcher/infielder Mike Dice and senior pitcher/first baseman Nick Comstock have also made significant contributions.

Bucci speaks glowingly of his assistants, a group that includes pitching coach Tim Miller, first base coach Mike Monaco and catching coach Brad Shamitko.

Bucci, who is in the third year of his second stint at South Park, has helped the Eagles reach the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons.

South Park's next goal is to increase that previous number to nine times in 10 seasons and then perhaps capture the section title.

The Eagles feel like the possibility of winning a WPIAL title is there, too.

"There's definitely a belief," Bucci said. "But there are no guarantees. There are obviously a lot of good teams and we know who they are. But if you're looking for a recipe, we might have it."

hsbaseball


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