East Xtra: Monroeville eager to prove a point

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With another school year drawing to a conclusion, families are prepping for summer vacations and kids are doing everything in their power not to think about school for the next three months.

At Gateway High School -- like most other schools -- the only correlation they prefer to make with school is playing sports. Gateway's baseball team had a season to forget in Class AAAA Section 3 -- going 1-12 overall and 1-9 in the section -- but that gave members of the Gators squad more of a reason to look forward to American Legion baseball season.

The Monroeville American Legion team consists of 14 ballplayers ranging in age from freshmen at Gateway to freshmen in college.

As the season begins, Rob Wratcher, a 2008 Gateway graduate who is in his second season as the Monroeville manager, and his staff do their best to make this as much of a stress-free environment as possible.

"It is a different atmosphere," Wratcher said. "I played Legion for Monroeville for four years. You always look forward to summer ball more than school ball. You just go out and play baseball. It is less stressful and you don't have to worry about school the next morning.

"We are pretty easy going. We aren't going to call anybody out on the field. We try to create a stress-free atmosphere. Baseball, especially, is almost impossible if you are not having fun and that is what we preach."

What Wratcher is preaching seems to be working as Monroeville already eclipsed the high school team's win total, starting the season 2-0 with wins against North Allegheny and Springdale.

Current Gateway varsity members led the way on the mound in the first two wins. Sophomore Max Herman pitched a complete game in a 7-2 win against North Allegheny, striking out 10 batters.

Against Springdale, junior Chris Kranick went five innings in a 6-1 victory.

The interesting factor in Legion ball is the age of competition the younger kids will face. Most teams will take advantage of the fact that they are allowed to have college freshmen on the team with the age limit being 19 years old.

Monroeville has four such players on their team. Tyler Boehm graduated from Gateway last year and finished his first full season at Pitt-Greensburg. Boehm serves as the team's utility man but has played second base the first two games.

Ryan Kerns, an East Allegheny graduate, plays first base and bats cleanup for Wratcher. Kerns was going to play at CCAC this past year but the school was unable to field a team.

The next two former Gators on Wratcher's squad are Nate Dillon and Dom McKenna. Dillon is attending California University of Pennsylvania but did not play baseball this past year. McKenna, who isn't currently enrolled at school, will be patrolling the outfield for Monroeville.

"Nate broke his wrist in the second regional game that we played last year," Wratcher said. "He was chomping at the bit to play this year. Dom was hurt all of last year but he brings a big bat into our lineup."

As for the younger team members, the experience they will receive by playing against older players will be second to none.

"It is really good," Wratcher said. "You play good competition in high school, but everybody is the same age. We have freshmen and sophomores in high school playing against college freshmen. It is a good experience for them to test the boundaries. No one has been intimidated and everyone has been successful."

As for the team, they are looking to build on last year's success where they went to the Region 6 tournament in Beaver Falls and picked up a win against Uniontown.

"With getting some guys back, I am expecting to take it another step further than last year," Wratcher said. "They have proven themselves last year. Our goal is to move onto states and see what we can do there. I always tell them it is a brand new season. You are starting with a new slate and they are looking pretty good so far this year."

Monroeville will continue its sizzling start with two games this week. It played Wednesday at North Allegheny and will play host to Plum in a makeup game tonight.

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