East Xtra: Bushy Run makes playoffs, but opts out

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The Bushy Run American Legion team had enough talent to compete in the Westmoreland County League playoffs this season, but there was the possibility it would not have enough numbers to compete in the two-week tournament.

So manager Frank Pecora notified league officials his team was not going to participate in the district tournament and another team would take its place.

"It is unfortunate," Pecora said. "We have the talent, but you need nine guys, too, for all the games. It is not that kids aren't playing ball, they are playing ball but they are doing it for other teams and they have other obligations."

That is not to say that the entire regular season was for naught. Bushy Run finished the regular season 9-8 to tie Murrysville for first place in the league's Northern Division.

Bushy Run was one of the top offensive teams in the league, making a smooth transition to using wooden bats this season. Bushy Run totaled 120 runs in 17 games, nobody else in the Northern Division scored more than 83 and only Latrobe (16-1), champion of the Southern Division, scored more in the Westmoreland League with 135.

The biggest reason why even just playing a regular season with the Bushy Run team was of importance is because of the makeup of the team. Bushy Run consists nearly entirely of Penn-Trafford students and alumni.

Only two players on the team have graduated from Penn-Trafford and are moving on to college. The rest will be returning to the Warriors baseball team in the spring along with Pecora, an assistant varsity coach.

"It is something everyone wanted to do, for them to play together this summer," Pecora said. "They did make the commitment but there were unforeseen things that happened like injuries. As far as the regular season goes, guys really got some great experience, especially guys on the mound."

During the scholastic season Penn-Trafford finished 13-7 overall and 9-3 in Class AAAA Section 2 to take second place behind Hempfield and qualify for the WPIAL playoffs. The Warriors were eliminated in the first round, 4-3, by Central Catholic.

With pitchers Tyler Smith and Ross Orgera pitching a majority of the innings for Penn-Trafford, there were not too many innings to go around for other pitchers during the varsity season. Smith took the summer off from pitching to rest his arm and Orgera played in another league in Johnstown this summer.

That left plenty of openings for other pitchers to step up and they did -- most notably Zak Wright, Danny Owoc, Shane Mallon and Brendan Reddy.

The Legion pitchers, who saw no more than 15 innings of work during the varsity season, were on pitch limits at the beginning of the summer season.

"We had to take it easy on them at the beginning of the year," Pecora said. "Just two to three innings at a time."

By the end of the season the transformation was complete. In Bushy Run's final two games the team got complete games out of Reddy and Wright, including a no-hitter by Reddy at Kiski Valley.

"As the summer went on, their arms got more strength and that will be beneficial for the high school season," Pecora said.

Shane Churma, Scott Koscho and Mark Merlino were team leaders. All three will also return to Penn-Trafford in the fall. Koscho, the starting catcher, batted in the three spot for Bushy Run. He hit one of two home runs Bushy Run had this season. Merlino started at first base before a knee injury ended his summer. Churman played either second or third base.

Luke Smeltz, a rising junior at Penn-Trafford, was consistent this summer playing at shortstop. The starting outfield of Jake Morain, Billy Dugan and Chris Common will all return to Penn-Trafford next season.

Dan Wukich, a Kiski Prep student who lives in the Penn-Trafford area, was a contributor playing catcher and shortstop. Ryan Marasti, who will be a senior at Penn-Trafford, played second base and center field while batting leadoff.

"It was a good summer," Pecora said. "The change to wooden bats was a good change. You have to hit it hard and play more small ball. That helped in a lot of their approaches and that will help next year in high school."

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