East Xtra: Buckley drives Central Catholic to a strong finish
Share with others:
M.P. Buckley has embraced his role on the Central Catholic High School baseball team as the "go-to guy" for producing runs.
But Buckley, a junior left fielder, has done more than drive in runs for the Vikings this season.
He's provided some laughter for his teammates as well as some leadership.
"M.P.'s a tremendous kid," fourth-year coach Frank LaCava said. "He's a character; the team jokester. He keeps everyone loose in the dugout and in the clubhouse and he's very much liked by his teammates.
"At the same time, he knows when it's time to get down to business and he takes care of business. He's a leader and has done a good job all season."
Buckley doesn't disagree with his coach's assessment.
"That's just who I am," said Buckley, whose given first name is Michael-Patrick. "I try to get everybody up and make sure we're having fun. It seems to work."
Behind Buckley, Central Catholic finished its regular-season schedule with seven consecutive wins en route to earning a share of the Section 4-AAAA title tied with Plum. The Vikings and Mustangs split during the regular season and both finished 10-2 in section play to share the title.
Central Catholic advanced to the WPIAL playoffs and knocked off two well-respected programs in Shaler Area and Bethel Park, respectively, before facing defending WPIAL champion Seneca Valley in the semifinals.
In a game that started on Monday afternoon but was suspended by lightning in the third inning and finished on Tuesday, Seneca Valley (17-4) defeated Central, 9-5, ending a memorable season for the Vikings (17-5-1).
"We knew we had to win the section [title]," said Buckley, who lives in the Lincoln Place section of Pittsburgh. "Our goal was not to let anyone stop us. We've been able to hit in the right spots and play great defense.
"We've never given up. We've been at this since January in the weight room. All that hard work back then is paying off. We're playing like we can't let go of playing our last game.
"We've played like we refuse to lose and that's what got us in the playoffs."
Buckley, who bats third in the Vikings' lineup, finished the regular season tied for the WPIAL lead in both home runs with eight and RBIs with 40.
"His power has been a pleasant surprise," LaCava said. "I kind of expected him to come in this year and bat somewhere in the six or seven hole, but he's brought some power. He has great bat speed and has spent a lot of time working in the offseason to get better.
"He's a baseball guy. He eats, sleeps and breathes baseball."
Seven of Buckley's eight round-trippers came during the Vikings' last eight games of the regular season.
"I was surprised, myself," said Buckley, who bats and throws right-handed. "I never go to the plate thinking I'm going to hit a home run. The ball seems to just go off the bat perfectly. The balls just jump right off the bat and rise up over the fence.
"A lot of those home runs drove in a bunch of runs, so that made it even better. Those were big runs we needed."
Entering Central Catholic's semifinal game against Seneca Valley, Buckley was batting .450.
"He's gotten a lot bigger and stronger since last year," LaCava said. "His approach to the plate has been a surprise this year because he's getting the pitches he's looking for.
"He's not swinging and missing pitches or fouling off pitches; he's making solid contact with the pitch he's looking for.
"He's the kind of player who gives 100 percent all the time, every time. He's been consistent all season, but he really came on and went on a tear during the second half of the season."
Central Catholic qualified for the playoffs for the third consecutive season, losing in the quarterfinals two years ago and then in the first round last season.
The Vikings began their campaign this year with a 3-0 run during a spring trip in Vero Beach, Fla. They went 0-2-1, however, upon their return against WPIAL competition before winning 14 of their next 16 games.
"We had a rough few days after coming back from our Florida trip," Buckley said. "We lost some games and it got us down, but we kept fighting and quickly started hitting the ball a lot better.
"Our defense and hitting is what got us to the playoffs. We've also had very good pitching all year."
Buckley plans to continue playing baseball this summer for the Pittsburgh Spikes in the Western Pennsylvania Elite Baseball League.
"This has been a great season," Buckley said. "It's going to be hard to let this season go. I'm proud to be a part of this team."
First Published May 24, 2012 12:00 am