North/South Xtra: Leadership key to Steel City's success

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Stressing fundamentals or helping his younger players deal with a demanding summer baseball league schedule hasn't been much of a concern for Mark Saghy.

The head coach and manager of the Steel City Wildcats, Saghy attributes his team's success in the Western Pennsylvania Elite Baseball League to the veteran leadership displayed by his older players.

"Sometimes I sound like a broken record talking about the focus and leadership of our seniors," Saghy said. "We have eight seniors and they've learned from older players they played with over the years and are now passing their knowledge on to the younger guys."

Steel City finished the regular season at the top of the WPEBL standings with an impressive 19-1 record. One of the region's premier summer baseball leagues, the WPEBL features some of the area's most talented high school players from throughout the WPIAL.

With his team comprised mainly of players from the region's northern and southern communities, Saghy's Wildcats have been one of the league's most dominate teams entering this week's playoffs. Although the first round of the WPEBL playoffs began today, Steel City earned a bye and waits to meet its opposition in the semifinals beginning Monday.

"When we started the season we were making mistakes," Saghy said. "Some of our younger guys, who may have played varsity this past spring, weren't accustomed to playing day-in and day-out at this level.

"We struggled a little bit, but started to pick it up. We never lost faith because of our senior leaders. They refuse to give up."

The Wildcats played in the league's championship series the past three seasons and captured the past two titles. The Wildcats also won league crowns in 2007 and 2008.

"We've played extremely well," Saghy said. "Coming into the season it was a bit of a crapshoot. We knew we had a good, experienced group coming back but we wouldn't have one of our top pitchers in AJ Olasz and one of our top hitters in Daane Berezo."

West Mifflin's Olasz, a left-handed pitcher and Cincinnati recruit, sustained a shoulder injury during his high school season and hasn't pitched for the Wildcats. He has served as the team's designated hitter.

Berezo, a recent graduate from Pine-Richland and Virginia Commonwealth University recruit, opted to prepare for college this summer instead of playing for Steel City.

"We knew what we still had with some of our older players, but I've been impressed with our younger guys," Saghy said. "The older guys have helped with the development of our younger players, who didn't have much experience before this summer. The younger guys have learned as much, if not more, from their teammates than their coaches."

Keystone Oak's Tyler Lehman, a left-handed pitcher and Penn State recruit, has been Saghy's go-to arm.

"Tyler is an outstanding pitcher," Saghy said. "He's been our ace and he's a leader. He's taken it upon himself to help the younger guys. He's done a tremendous job."

Austin Kitchen and Columbia recruit Zack Bahm -- both from Mt. Lebanon -- as well as North Allegheny's Trevor Smith follow in the rotation. Peters Township's Phil Mary, Shady Side Academy's Andrew Scherbarth and Upper St. Clair's Robbie Saghy have added depth out of the bullpen. Robbie Saghy is a nephew of the coach.

"Our pitching has really been outstanding," Saghy said. "We have a well-rounded staff. Basically, we bring guys in when it's their time to pitch. They've been able to lead the way."

Vincentian Academy's Phil Madonna, a Siena recruit, and Chartiers Valley's Dominic Castello, a Saginaw Valley State University recruit, have split catching duties behind the plate.

"They call the game and we as coaches have their total faith and trust," Saghy said. "They go out and talk to our pitchers, understand what they have to work with that day and work with the pitcher through the entire game. They've been tremendous leaders."

Offensively, the Wildcats have been led by Upper St. Clair's Gannon Rooney, a Washington & Jefferson recruit, and Thomas Jefferson's Joe McHugh, a Pitt recruit.

"These guys do everything," Saghy said. "I can't remember a game where they weren't the reason why we were scoring runs. There hasn't been two guys more vital to our offense than those guys. They both play with a smile on their face, work their tails off and have fun doing it."

Saghy also has been impressed with the daily efforts from Upper St. Clair's Connor Brennan, Peters Township's Ryan Tassone and Tor Sehnert, Canon-McMillan's Tanner Piechnick, West Mifflin's Keyshawn Andress, Mt. Lebanon's Vince Dorazio, OLSH's Santino Platt, North Allegheny's Trevor Smith and Vincentian Academy's Christian Fedko.

"Every guy on our roster contributes in one way or another," Saghy said. "It's been amazing to watch. No matter who we put out on the field -- no matter what position -- they've stepped in and contributed."

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