South Xtra: With experienced lineup, Baldwin emerges as a section title threat

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Just when they started to feel comfortable in their new surroundings, the Baldwin Highlanders will have to pack up and leave.

Last year was Baldwin's first year in Class AAAA Section 3 and it was a season to forget. The Highlanders ended the campaign with a 5-12 record.

This year is a totally different story. The Highlanders are in the beginning stages of their second -- and what will become their final -- season in this section before they move back to their old "home" in Section 5.

Baldwin could not have jumped out to a faster start, sitting at 5-0 and 3-0 in section play.

"I'm happy with how we started," said Highlanders coach Dan Caponi, who is in his 21st season at Baldwin. "We have a long way to go. The better you are the harder you have to work at it. We still have a lot of section games left."

They have seven to be exact, after two scheduled games this week against Central Catholic and Gateway were rained out. The Highlanders are scheduled to play a non-section game today against south suburban rival Upper St. Clair.

But the Highlanders may have already picked up their biggest win in a long time on April 8 when they defeated Plum, 5-2, at Wallace Field.

"I imagine beating Plum [was our most quality win in quite a while]," Caponi said. "They have a great program out there. That was our best win in a long time. It gave the kids some confidence. It wasn't a cheap win and we felt good about it.

"I knew Plum and Central Catholic would be pretty good."

The win against Plum was the fourth of the season for the Highlanders, who then went on to defeat McKeesport, 9-1, to equal the total number of wins from last season. Even though that thought was on Caponi's mind, he wouldn't say that was one of the team goals.

"Last year is over," Caponi said. "It really doesn't matter. It is almost harder when you have success because of the expectations.

"We have the same team [from last season]. We got a lot of learning experience from last year. They are playing with a little bit of confidence and that is a big deal. Last year we were playing not to lose instead of trying to win."

Caponi is not exaggerating when he says they have the same team. The Highlanders return all nine starting position players, including all the pitchers they used last year on varsity.

"We have all of our starters returning," Caponi said. "We had three seniors last year who were bench players. All the position players and pitching came back."

The pitchers making a difference are captain Alex Pantuso and Nick Bernick. Offensively, captain Christian Hurt, third baseman Tom McCarthy, left fielder Chris Disel and infielder Jordan Giten have been producing.

"When you are naming that many kids, you should be winning," Caponi said. "These guys are producing a lot of runs. You have to score runs in high school baseball."

Caponi sites maturity, experience and confidence as the biggest differences between last year's team and this year's.

"We started a lot of guys who had no varsity experience last year," Caponi said. "We lost a few close games last year. We just couldn't hold a lead. We just didn't have that mentality to go out and finish. When you are young, [inexperience] hurts you and that's what I thought happened last year."

"I think maturity and just confidence [have made a difference this season]. These kids work really hard. It is a really good baseball team to coach."

So while their "lease" in this conference is up at the end of the year, the Highlanders are looking to extend it another month or two and make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"Absolutely," Caponi said. "The goal is always to make the playoffs. It is all coaching cliches but the next game is the most important. If you take care of business one game at a time, everything will fall into place."

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