South Xtra: Keystone Oaks Legion team in rebuilding mode

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Last year was a season to remember for the Keystone Oaks High School varsity baseball team.

Quite often, success on the varsity level also bodes well for a district's corresponding American Legion baseball team. That wasn't the case for Keystone Oaks last year.

Although the Golden Eagles recorded a 20-win season and reached the PIAA Class AAA semifinals, the performance of the Keystone Oaks Area American Legion team was disappopinting to say the least.

After two games, the 2013 American Legion team had to cancel its season because it was unable to field a team due to lack of numbers and a much later than normal start.

"[The high school team] came in third in the state," Keystone Oaks Legion manager Chuck Dewick said. "You can't play a Legion game until the high school season is over, so it killed our Legion season."

After a year off, Keystone Oaks is back in the league under Dewick. He replaced Ed Beveridge, who had to give up the manager's post because of work reasons. Dewick, a 1986 graduate of Brashear High School, has coached baseball in Dormont for the past decade. He also serves as vice president of the Dormont Athletic Boosters.

Keystone Oaks has started the season 0-2, losing, 9-2, to Peters Township and, 2-0, to South Park.

Out of the 18 players who make up this season's roster, about half a dozen contributed on the Golden Eagles varsity squad this year that finished third in Class AAA Section 3 and made a WPIAL playoff appearance, losing to Hampton, 4-1, in a first-round game.

The rest of the roster consists of players who graduated or played in the Colt League last year.

"We have a lot of young players coming up in our system," Dewick said. "We are a pretty young team overall."

They also have players with the experience to make a run at the Allegheny County playoffs, including three varsity infield starters. Kevin Tunney and Walt Hepner, who just graduated from KO, played at third base and shortstop, respectively. Hepner will go on to join the Army after the season. Also playing is starting second baseman Ben Canty, who will be a senior at KO when the next school year begins.

Another key addition to the team is Johnny O'Donnell. O'Donnell pitched and played the infield for Bishop Canevin this past season.

One key player whom Dewick was counting on -- although the manager is not sad that he won't be available -- is Taylor Lehman, a mainstay of the Keystone Oaks varsity pitching staff. He was selected in the 34th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Maimi Marlins.

When it comes to expectations, Dewick isn't expecting too much. His main goal was to make sure the Keystone Oaks franchise kept its spot in the league.

"To be honest with you -- because we are so young -- my goal was to field the team and keep our spot in the league and build for the future," Dewick said. "Obviously, we would like to be competitive. They will have more age on them next year. We will have at least 10 players who don't have Colt obligations."

As for the players, they only have one thing on their mind once they step onto the field, win.

"They are treating it pretty well," Dewick said. "It is a different feeling. I am not used to dealing with more schedules. There are some other things that factor in.

"With the group of kids we have -- and I expected this -- they have as much passion for this as anyone. They take pride in playing for their community."

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