Nine games into their season, the Steel City Wildcats of the Western Pennsylvania Elite Baseball League had a 2.18 ERA.
The best part of that for the under-18 team of local high school players? The two pitchers expected to be the team's best have yet to pitch an inning.
"We've had some success and we have not even had to rely on our top two arms yet," coach Mark Saghy said.
Greg Schneider was one of the WPIAL's top pitchers this season for Thomas Jefferson and Jared Skolnicki is a promising left-hander from Keystone Oaks. Neither has appeared in a game for the Wildcats -- Schneider due to rest after a long high school season, which included a deep playoff run; Skolnicki because of recovery from knee surgery.
Both are expected to contribute for Steel City, which has been one of the marquee franchises in the WPEBL since its formation six years ago. The Wildcats had a 7-3 mark heading into this week's schedule.
"It's been a good group," Saghy said. "We've had kids tied up with the high school playoffs, so we were missing a good portion of the lineup for the first seven or eight games, but the younger guys stepped up and played well.
"We have a lot of seniors who have some good experience, but then we also have a lot of sophomores who are new to the team and new to the league, so they've been exposed to some different things. But they all seem to be jelling and playing well."
The Wildcats, who play their home games at Green Tree Field, have advanced to the league championship series the past two seasons. They won WPEBL titles in 2007 and '08.
This season, they figure to be in contention again in the nine-team league, which was developed as a way for top high school players to gain increased exposure against higher-level competition without having to endure costly and time-consuming travel to Southern locales every summer weekend.
"Our approach is we want to allow the kids to continue to develop and help them get better, get some exposure and have some fun," Saghy said. "And, hopefully, success is the result of all of those coming together."
Some of the fruits of the team's past labors were shown in the recent Major League Baseball draft, when three former Wildcats players were selected -- Jordan Steranka (21st round) and Jimmy Rider (26th round) by the Pirates and J.J. Jankowski in the 34th round by the Houston Astros.
Rider and Jankowski are Peters Township alums and Steranka went to Mt. Lebanon.
This season's team includes at least six recent graduates who will play in college next season: shortstop Ian Happ of Mt. Lebanon (University of Cincinnati); catcher Steve McCaw of Waynesburg (Mercyhurst); catcher Jack Elliott of Upper St. Clair (Hampton, Va.); first baseman Jack Faett of Mt. Lebanon (John Carroll); pitcher Hunter Bigler of Trinity (IUP); and pitcher Trevor Williams of West Allegheny (Johns Hopkins).
Williams was 2-0 with a save and had not allowed an earned run in 14 innings coming into this week. Bigler had allowed only one earned run with 10 strikeouts in seven innings.
Chris Shaffer (Plum High School) had 16 strikeouts in 12 innings, and A.J. Olasz had 25 strikeouts in 15 innings. Olasz recently completed his sophomore year at West Mifflin Area.
Infielder Joe McHugh of Thomas Jefferson is another rising junior who shows potential for the Wildcats. Same with infielder Dane Berezo of Pine-Richland.
"It's a fun group," Saghy said. "We enjoy playing, and the kids enjoy working hard and learning. I have two guys who help me out who probably know the game as well as anybody who guide the guys.
"The kids are developing, which is one reason why we enjoy it so much. The three of us want to teach the game and the kids want to learn it.
"We go out and have fun, and hopefully at the end of the year we have a chance to win the league title."sportsother