North Xtra: Success will be in youth for Shaler

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Bruce Budzik is in his eighth season as a member of the Shaler American Legion post.

After being an assistant coach, he took over as the manager of the junior Legion team for the past three years before becoming the manager of the senior Legion team this year. In all of his years in the community, it will be hard pressed to find another group of players with so much youth and upside.

"We are a very young team," Budzik said. "We have 13 total players. We have two 17-year-olds, nine 16-year-olds and the rest 15-year-olds. The other teams are older."

With youth comes inexperience, but the same level of talent as any other team in the East Division of the Allegheny County Legion League.

Shaler stood at 4-3 after a 3-2 win Monday against Springdale and in good position to make the playoffs, a feat that passed it by a year ago.

In each of Shaler's previous wins it did not allow a run. The pitching staff tossed three shutouts in beating North Allegheny, 5-0, twice and Plum, 2-0.

Shaler lost to Springdale twice and Plum once. It has yet to play Monroeville entering the week.

The league has dwindled down throughout the years due to townships not being able to field teams.

"We have five teams in the section," Budzik said. "It used to be the Allegheny River League. Over the past couple of the years there were four teams that were not able to compete in the league anymore. The Allegheny South and the West combined into one."

Out of the five teams, four will make the playoffs with the top two teams making it to regionals at Connellsville. With such a tight window for error, Shaler knows that every game is a must win.

"We have games Monday, Tuesday and Thursday," Budzik said. "We try to get a little information from the other coaches at the beginning of the games.

"We report our scores to the head of the league and we were in first place at 3-2 a week ago but I don't know where we are at this point or anything at that. At that time we had five games in and everyone else had four or three."

Leading the way for Shaler are Sam Ireland, Noah Hernandez and Andrew Mueller. Ireland, Hernandez and Mueller each experienced time on the high school varsity team and is the reason why Shaler supported a 1.15 team ERA entering play on Monday.

"We have a good group of pitching," Budzik said. "They are my three starters right now. I have a lot of arms on this team. Obviously with playing three or four games a week I am going to need a lot of pitching. We have given up 19 runs and nine of them earned.

"Our pitching is probably the best in the section. There is no reason we can't get to the regionals. If we don't get it this year then we are going to be a force next year."

It's difficult to determine how players are going to treat the season. In a more relaxed atmosphere, winning might not be top priority on a lot of teams. That's not the case for Shaler.

"They are treating it good," Budzik said. "We are trying to get these kids to understand that this is good baseball and tough competition. They are trying to win. The mindset is there. It is just going out and getting them to do it at this point. We are not in it as a recreation team at this point. We want to make a run.

"We have two main goals. Our first goal is to make the playoffs. Our second goal is to play in the championship game to get to regionals. That is our main goal. As a young team, I would love for them to make it to that point to experience it. I want these kids to face the best competition. I should have this team together for the next few years. It would be a huge building block for the kids."

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