East Xtra: Despite dealing with two tragedies, Penn Hills forges on

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After winning the biggest game of its season two weeks ago, the Penn Hills baseball team didn't do much celebrating.

Instead, both coaches and players kept their thoughts focused on Indians head coach Ed Carr and his family.

A 1997 graduate of Penn Hills, Carr is in his fourth season guiding his alma mater and missed the team's 4-1 Section 4-AAAA upset against No. 4-ranked Pine-Richland on April 8. Earlier that day, Carr received word that his father, Michael Carr, had been in a car accident and was rushed to the hospital.

His father later died overnight.

"Our whole world was turned around that week," Carr said. "While I was with my dad, my team played their hearts out against Pine-Richland.

"With my father passing away, the team has played three games without me. From what my assistant coaches are telling me, the guys are fighting right now. Everything kind of got turned upside down, but they continued fighting and we're looking to get back in the top three spots in the standings."

Tragedy, though, struck Penn Hills yet again just last week.

Not long after earning an 11-1 victory against Allderdice, the team received news that 22-year-old Chyla Franciscus had unexpectedly died. She was the older sister of senior outfielder James Franciscus.

"It's almost unbelievable," Carr said. "With everything the guys have gone through, the team has really stuck together."

Penn Hills has a 4-6 overall record and 3-3 mark in Section 4-AAAA. After knocking off Pine-Richland, the Indians lost their next two section games against Shaler Area and Moon Area. They bounced back, however, with wins last week against Woodland Hills and Allderdice before losing the rematch with Pine-Richland, 7-0, Tuesday.

"We've been calling our schedule, 'The Gauntlet,'" said Carr, whose team also lost early non-section games against Norwin, Fox Chapel and No. 2 Baldwin. "We played a lot of good teams back to back to back.

"We're hanging in there. We have a lot of big games ahead of us."

Penn Hills hasn't qualified for the playoffs since 2011 and went 7-12 overall last season, which included a 2-8 record against section opponents.

"We wanted to see this team jell this year and with everything we've gone through we're starting to see that happen," Carr said. "They all came together as an entire team to the funeral home and I was extremely touched.

"We may only be 3-2 in the section, but right now we're a different team. We need to continue to play as one team and forget about stats. If everyone does their job, this team is going to continue to compete."

According to Carr, senior third baseman Dakota Newport, senior outfielder Dan Bonnett and junior catcher Tyler Reis have stepped up and are providing the veteran leadership he hoped to see this year.

"Those guys have been our vocal leaders," Carr said. "We have a lot of guys contributing and we're getting production from a lot of different people at different times."

Senior pitcher/shortstop Zac Crosmun as well as outfielder Cameron Franklin, pitcher/infielder Steven Zang and pitcher/outfielder Mason Murray-McDonough, all juniors, also are returning starters.

Zang and Crosmun, both right-handers, have been the Indians' top two starting pitchers. Senior Ryan Getz, junior Trevor Miller, junior Greg Hoolahan and freshman Nick Coleman have added pitching depth.

"I know we've been treading water but we're trying to stay in the [playoff hunt]," Carr said before this week's games.

"These won't be easy games, but if we could possibly win a few of them it would come down to our last five section games to see what we can do down the stretch."

Penn Hills is scheduled to continue section play today at Moon (8-1, 5-1).

"From top to bottom, this section could be one of the toughest this year," Carr said. "Right now, each day could make for a big swing in the standings depending how teams do against each other.

"We know we can't get too up or too down. When it comes down to the wire, we have to take it one game at a time."

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