East Xtra: Teams lining up to play Penn Hills

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Last year there was a chance some teams may overlook the Penn Hills American Legion baseball team.

That was before the team went on a historic run during the summer of 2012, knocking off favorite after favorite on its way to the Region 6 tournament and then the Pennsylvania state tournament in Harrisburg, the furthest a Penn Hills American Legion team has ever been.

Now nobody will be looking past Penn Hills, and, actually, teams are looking for Penn Hills.

"Everybody wants to play us, we are getting phone calls," Rick Brennan, Penn Hills' assistant coach and business manager, said.

Even with the loss of five starters, teams still want to line up to get a shot at Penn Hills.

Included in those five starters were two standout pitchers, Mike Fulton and Walt Hajduk. Fulton was a sophomore pitcher at Marietta College, and Hajduk was a sophomore pitcher at La Roche College this past spring.

"I lost two kids who pitched in college," Brennan said. "They helped tremendously but we are doing fine. They still got targets on their back from last year. We just went on a roll last year, it was a good roll."

Penn Hills has started this season on a roll. Through five games they are 3-1-1 with two wins against Swissvale and a win against Monroeville. Penn Hills has tied Shaler and lost to them, 4-3.

"We are mostly a younger team but we are doing surprisingly well," Brennan said.

The oldest player on the team is Brennan's son, left-handed pitcher Joe Brennan, a 2012 Central Catholic graduate who resides in Penn Hills. The majority of the Legion team is made up of players who were sophomores and juniors this past school year.

Penn Hills maintains an 18-player roster that includes some high school freshman players.

Most of the team are Penn Hills students or graduates with the exception of Brennan and outfielder Alex Lucci, a 2012 Kiski Prep graduate.

Even with the loss of Fulton and Hajduk, Penn Hills has a deep rotation with eight players capable of pitching, including Zac Crosmun, the other member of the three-man pitching rotation on the Penn Hills American Legion team last season. Crosmun played shortstop and pitched for the Penn Hills varsity team. Along with Crosmun and Brennan, Steven Zang, a rising junior at Penn Hills, has been another solid starter.

Rick Brennan serves as assistant coach with Keith Borman serving as head coach. Borman is a Penn Hills alum who later played for La Roche. He is currently the junior varsity coach at Penn Hills.

The transition to wooden bats this season has been hit or miss for Penn Hills. In a doubleheader against Swissvale, Penn Hills scored 13 and 10 runs, respectively. They also played Shaler to a 2-2 tie in 10 innings.

Offensively, first baseman/outfielder Aaron Baird, catcher Trey Reese, Brennan and Crosmun have been the best bats in the lineup. Lucci bats leadoff and has been able to get on base by utilizing his speed and bunting the ball.

"When Lucci bunts, not too many people are throwing him out," Rick Brennan said.

Tyler Reis bats second and Baird follows him in the lineup. Reis sees most of his time at second base but can also play shortstop when Crosmun is pitching.

"We are very interchangeable," Rick Brennan said.

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