East Xtra: Latrobe enjoying the benefits of a deep roster

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By late July some American Legion baseball managers are struggling to fill out rosters. Teams that are still alive deep into the season playing in district tournaments and regional tournaments have to deal with players leaving for family vacations or participating in other leagues.

That has not been a problem for the Latrobe American Legion program. Manager Jason Bush ensures that the Latrobe Legion team will play as many games as possible, creating an attractive opportunity for players.

By July 23, Bush still had his full complement of players to choose from on his 18-player roster. Though some teams are forced to play with depleted rosters or worse yet, withdraw from tournaments, Latrobe brought a deep bench to its 22nd consecutive playoff season and its fourth trip in six years to the District 7 regional tournament.

"There are a lot of options for the kids," Bush said. "We try to sell them on the fact that we are going to go out and try to find as many games as we can. We want to get players on the field. We have a full roster because we can get the exhibitions, everyone on the team has played in at least a dozen games."

Latrobe is30-5 this season. In the District 7 tournament this week Latrobe lost its opening game, 6-5, to Mifflin County in the double-elimination tournament. It was the second season in a row Latrobe lost its opener and had to play every game as an elimination game for the remainder of the tournament.

"It is extremely tough; it is not the way we would have scripted it," Bush said of losing the opener. "It was do-or-die mentality after that, it heightens everything. The next mistake could be the one that sends you home."

After the opening loss to Mifflin County on Saturday, Latrobe bounced back on Sunday with a 6-4 win against Bedford in 10 innings. Regional games in American Legion are nine innings opposed to the seven innings in the regular season.

On Monday, Latrobe eliminated host Somerset, 10-0, to reach the final four of Region 7, and beat Unity Tuesday, 3-0. Latrobe was scheduled to play Phillipsburg Wednesday.

After losing its regional opener last year, Latrobe won one game before being eliminated in game three so the team has already advanced further than last summer.

"We had a decent amount of players who were holdovers from last year," Bush said. "They were here last year and this has made them hungrier."

The Latrobe American Legion team is comprised mostly of students and recent graduates of Greater Latrobe High School. The Latrobe high school players are split up between the Latrobe and Unity Legion teams depending on where they live. The Latrobe team also has two players from Ligonier Valley High School and one player from Greensburg Central Catholic.

Latrobe has two players with a year of college baseball under their belt, Ryan Bisi and Dom Shojaie. Both Bisi and Shojaie are 2012 Latrobe graduates. Bisi played second base and pitched as a freshman at Bethany, and plays third base and pitches for Latrobe. Shojaie played club baseball at George Mason University as a freshman. He is one of the top pitchers for Latrobe.

Bisi pitched a complete-game shutout Monday against Somerset to run his record to 7-0 this summer.

Other standouts have been first baseman and designated hitter Seth Holler, a junior at Latrobe, and starting catcher Eddie Kilkeary, a senior at Greensburg Central Catholic. Holler had three hits in the regional win against Bedford including a double. Kilkeary entered the regional tournament batting .385. He had a double and three RBIs in the win against Somerset.

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