The varsity baseball program at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has experienced some of its most encouraging success the past two seasons.
After failing to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs in 2011, the Chargers made their deepest postseason run in 2012 by winning the Class A third-place consolation game and earning the program's first PIAA tournament bid.
Last year, they surged even further by winning a program-high 20 games and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals as the WPIAL's Class A runner-up.
"With what we were able to accomplish the past two years, we're trying to continue to put together a culture of winning and have that expectation," said Phil McCarren, who is in his fifth season coaching OLSH. "We still have a way to go to continue that trend, but there's definitely an attitude and expectation to be successful.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the effort and positive attitude from the kids. We have the talent and we're trying to continue that trend of being successful this year."
Five games into the season, the Chargers were off to a 5-0 start, which included a 14-4 Section 5-A route against Northgate on Saturday. Besides beating Quigley Catholic twice, OLSH also earned non-section wins against Serra Catholic and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. The Chargers allowed just eight runs while posting three shutouts during that five-game span.
"So far we've looked pretty good," McCarren said. "We lost some key players from last year to graduation, but we had a nice core that returned.
"We still have to come together, but I like the effort I've seen."
OLSH captured its second-consecutive section title last season and won 18 games in a row before losing to Western Beaver in the WPIAL championship game. The Chargers finished 20-4 after losing to California in the PIAA playoffs.
Nine senior members from last year's team have since graduated, including star pitchers Preston Falascino and Tim Mulvey.
"I knew this year wasn't going to be a total rebuilding year," McCarren said. "We have some good, young kids in the program and I believed we would grow and mature."
Catcher Nick Kocent, second baseman Dan Bechek, center fielder Bill Mulcahey, and outfielder/pitcher Kyle Seamon headline McCarren's lineup as seniors and returning starters.
Nathan Marko, a pitcher/infielder and transfer from Montour, as well as outfielder C.J. Benzinger and pitcher/infielder Oscar Matous are all juniors and have earned starting jobs.
"We're really getting some great senior leadership right now," McCarren said. "Our seniors are doing a great job leading by example. The younger players and a few freshmen are stepping in and it's worked out well."
Those underclassmen who have already begun contributing include sophomore leadoff hitter Will King, an outfielder, and sophomore third baseman Adam Pace as well as first baseman Kiefer Bishop, pitcher/infielder Dylan Osheka and outfielder Dom Davis, who are all freshmen.
Pitching-wise, McCarran expects junior Santino Platt, who also plays shortstop, to be the Chargers' ace, while both Marko and Seamon will follow in the rotation.
"Santino needs to assume the role as our No. 1 pitcher," McCarren said. "Our four seniors are very important to this team, but Santino is also talented. He has to be productive for us to be successful. He's done a great job and continues to work hard."
Weather permitting, OLSH was scheduled to continue section play Wednesday against section rival Vincentian Academy before traveling to Sewickley Academy tomorrow.
"From what I know, Vincentian Academy returned everybody and has a lot of talent," McCarren said. "On paper, they look good and we expected that. Sewickley Academy also returned a lot and is well coached.
"I don't know what to expect, really. I do know we're going to see some good ballclubs and it's going to be exciting."
McCarren believes pitching as well as an all-around effort will keep OLSH competitive the rest of the season.
"The key to our success is going to be on the mound," McCarren said. "Santino needs to have a good year, throwing strikes and controlling his breaking pitches. Other guys need to step up, especially pitching. Pitching is the name of the game and we need to be consistent and effective.
"We also need to play sound defense. Offensively, we have to hit consistently, be aggressive and score runs."