West Xtra: Fort Cherry senior closes his career on a high note

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL

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There's a reason why Kyle Witzberger aims for perfection every time he steps on a baseball field.

"I really want to help this team be successful," said Witzberger, a senior catcher/pitcher on the Fort Cherry High School baseball team. "Baseball is a team sport, but it has an individual atmosphere.

"For me, I have to perform to help my team, and I'm going to push myself because I want to be able to step up when my team needs me."

Witzberger, though, has done just about everything to support the Rangers. A 6-foot, 155-pound right-hander, he has been one of Fort Cherry's most reliable pitching arms while also ranking among the WPIAL's top hitters this season.

"He's still his own worst critic," longtime Fort Cherry coach Bob Sawhill said. "Against Bentworth [on April 5], he went 4 for 5. He was upset he didn't get that fifth hit. He should have been happy to get four hits against a [good] team like Bentworth.

"I don't care if you get four hits against the Little Sisters of the Poor; getting four hits in a game is still pretty good."

Behind Witzberger, Fort Cherry (7-9, 7-7) made a game attempt to reach the WPIAL Class AA playoffs, but a late-season tailspin kept the Rangers from the postseason.

After a section victory against Charleroi Area on April 26 boosted Fort Cherry into a four-way tie for second place at 6-4, the Rangers lost three in a row before knocking off Chartiers-Houston, 5-4, Monday to close its season.

Washington (11-5, 10-4) shared the section title with Brownsville (13-4, 10-4) and Bentworth (10-5, 9-5) and Chartiers-Houston (11-7, 9-5), tied for third. All four teams qualified for the playoffs.

"We came off playing strong in the beginning of the season, but pulled off a little," said Witzberger, who lives in Hickory and plans to play baseball next season at Grove City. "One play here or there could have changed that.

"The games we won, we pitched well, hit well and fielded well. The games we lost, our hitting wasn't as good and we've made some costly errors."

Witzberger, however, re-mained consistent at the plate. He finished the season batting .500 (28 for 56) with five doubles, three triples and 17 RBIs.

On the mound, this senior right-hander compiled a 4-4 won-loss record with 39 strikeouts.

"He has great foot speed," Sawhill said. "He's hitting the ball very well. He's squaring up on the ball, hitting it on the nose.

"That has a lot to do with his hard work. We have batting practice at 6 a.m. and he's one of the first guys there. When he's not in the cage, he's hitting off a tee and not just sitting around. He's setting a good example for everyone."

A starter in Sawhill's lineup since his freshman year, Witzberger played just about every position in both the infield and outfield the past three seasons. This year, he's been the team's starting catcher when he's not pitching.

"He didn't pitch much last year," Sawhill said. "I figured he'd be able to get a couple wins this year, but when I give him the ball, he's ready to go. He's everything you can ask for in a kid his age."

The Rangers also have relied on juniors Matt Heslin and Koltan Kobrys.

Heslin, a shortstop/second baseman/pitcher, has been the staff's other top pitcher and owned a 2-2 record with 23 strikeouts. He was batting .555, while Kobrys, a shortstop, hit .349.

Last year, Fort Cherry won the Section 2-AA title with an 11-3 record and finished the year 14-8 overall after losing to Shady Side Academy during the WPIAL quarterfinals.

"Knowing this is my senior year and because I've grown up playing with this group of guys, I wanted to do everything I could to help this team win," Witzberger said.

"I learned a lot from last year's seniors. I want to be a leader as a senior and help this team do the same."

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