East Xtra: Gateway grad helps South Hills offense in Federation League

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Kenny Morgan and Matt Rossi were college teammates and roommates; Rossi was even a groomsman at Morgan's wedding.

So when Morgan was looking for players for the newly formed South Hills Federation League baseball program in 2012, it's not surprising that one of his first calls went to Rossi.

"He's one of my best friends," Morgan said. "I've known him for five, six years now and he's one heck of a ballplayer. I can't really say enough about him."

Rossi, a Gateway High School alumnus who lives in Monroeville, finished his Clarion University career near the top of the record books in several categories.

A two-time, second-team All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West selection, Rossi left the school first on the all-time home run list (20), second on the all-time hits list (165) and third in career RBIs (165), runs (87) and total bases (260).

Looking for a place to continue his baseball playing career, he joined Morgan to play on the South Hills team that first year, helping lead the team to a fourth-place finish and a postseason appearance.

"I think this is the top league in the area for our age group," said Rossi, who plays both corner infield spots. "I played in the Daily News League in high school, and this league is 10 times better. Everyone in the league is ready to play and you know you're going to have a tough game each night."

But Rossi still had aspirations to play professional baseball, and in 2013 he had an opportunity to play in the independent Pecos League for the Taos Blizzard in New Mexico.

He made the journey to the southwest and spent 10 days with the team before he was cut. Despite the way it turned out, he was glad he gave it a shot.

"I always wanted to play at the pro level and I was pretty pumped up to go down there," Rossi said. "But the talent there, I just wasn't ready for it. The pitchers were really tough and the position players were just as good if not better than me.

"But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Those are 10 days I won't forget."

Following his release, Rossi came back to the Pittsburgh area and caught on with South Hills again, which placed fifth last season with a 9-12-1 regular-season record.

This season, Rossi continues his play with a South Hills team that won seven of its first 12 games after adding four pitchers as well as first baseman Jon Kletzli, who led Waynesburg University in batting average and RBIs this spring as a freshman.

Kletzli's addition has allowed Rossi to move to third base and made the lineup deeper.

"He's a big lefty and it's always good to have a power bat from the left side in the lineup," said Rossi, who bats right-handed. "I told him he can play first as much he wants. I'll play anywhere."

Rossi is just happy to still be playing baseball, especially with Morgan and a group of players he knows well.

"Having Kenny there makes it great," Rossi said. "We roomed together three years and our families are really close. And now I've gotten to meet a lot of the guys he played with growing up. It's been great."


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