Entering this year's high school baseball season, Western Beaver was expected to return a solid foundation to help the program remain a sure contender in Class A.
The defending WPIAL champion Golden Beavers also figured to bring back star senior pitcher/infielder Nick Miller.
Western Beaver, though, faced a bit of a curveball during the offseason when Miller decided not to return to the baseball diamond.
A star basketball player who led the WPIAL in scoring this past winter, Miller paced the Golden Beavers in hitting (.588 batting average) and pitching (9-2 record) as a junior. He has decided not to play baseball during his senior year, however, so he can focus on basketball with the hopes of competing at the college level next season.
"He was a three-year starter and for his career he hit around .550," said Western Beaver coach Chad Miller, who also is Nick's father. "As a pitcher, he only lost three games during his career.
"We're moving on and will grow with the guys who have been here from the start of the season."
Western Beaver (2-1) entered the season ranked as the Post-Gazette's No. 2 team in Class A and opened its campaign with an 8-2 loss March 21 against South Side Beaver. The Golden Beavers picked up their first victory less than a week later, a 12-2 decision against Freedom Area, then routed Union Rimersburg, 13-1, Tuesday. They were scheduled to play Cornell Wednesday.
"We have to go play and play loose," coach Miller said. "We didn't do much right against South Side Beaver, so we need to take a deep breath and get comfortable. I'm sure we'll be fine after we continue to get more reps."
Last season, Western Beaver beat Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the WPIAL Class A championship game and won 18 consecutive games before losing to Johnsonburg during the first round of the PIAA playoffs. The Golden Beavers posted a perfect 12-0 mark to capture the Section 3-A crown and finished the year with an 18-3 overall record.
"Last year definitely gave us confidence," Miller said. "We proved we were capable of winning the section last year and now the guys know what it takes to accomplish that."
Besides losing the services of the younger Miller, Western Beaver also graduated key contributors Robert DiMaggio and Robert Ranone. DiMaggio hit .422 and led the team with 21 RBIs and four home runs last season.
"We're still trying to get comfortable," coach Miller said. "We lost our three captains from last year, but we still have a lot of good guys with good baseball abilities back. It's still early in the year, so we're going to need time to get comfortable with some of our new roles."
Steve Menich, a senior right-handed pitcher/catcher who went 4-1 last year, highlights the team's top returning starters. Seniors Steven Robison and Tracy Brozich also return, but will both move from the outfield into the infield this year. Robison is expected to play second base, while Brozich will play shortstop.
"We're off to a slow start only because we haven't been outside much and because some guys are changing positions and need that time on the field to get accustomed to the change," Miller said. "Guys need to put in the work on the field because you can only work so much in the gym. We need that time to get comfortable and for everyone to get on the same page."
Junior Austin Allison, a second baseman/catcher, as well as junior first baseman Cody Acon, junior third baseman John Petrosky and junior outfielder Hunter Roknich also are expected to add depth to the roster.
Menich, Robison, Brozich and senior Jared Postupac, a transfer from New Brighton, will head the Golden Beavers pitching staff.
"We still have some lively arms," Miller said. "Even though we lost Nick, we still have four seniors we can put out on the mound and rely on. They all throw well."
The Golden Beavers are scheduled to play Rochester Friday in their Section 3-A opener. They also will compete against Aliquippa, Union and Quigley Catholic in the five-team section.
"I honestly haven't looked outside our team just yet," Miller said. "I'm worrying more about our team right now. We first have to find ourselves in the locker room and on the practice field before we start scouting.
"This is a journey and there's going to be bumps in the road. We have to take that road and hope to keep going."