Sunday, March 21, 2021 | 10:01
Luke Jackson played 14 games and collected 33 at-bats as a sophomore in 2019 when Gateway finished 13-7 and qualified for the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.
The senior central fielder hoped, along with a group that came back with nine seniors, to build on the experience, which included a tough 2-1 loss to Shaler in the WPIAL first round. But concerns about infidelity wiped out the chance to play the 2020 season.
Now Jackson and the few other holdovers from two years ago, combined with a crop of younger talents who are new to varsity baseball, hope that spring is one of the golden opportunities, both in the section and beyond.
“It’s great to be back playing,” said Jackson, who collected 10 hits in his 33 at-bats and added five RBIs in 2019.
“We missed so much last year. It was difficult not to be able to play with the elderly. We do not take anything for granted. We have a good group of boys. We just have to take it one at a time and make sure we do our thing. ”
Senior Fellow Joe Schulte, a captain with Jackson, is just as confident.
“There are many good teams, but we are also one of the good teams,” said Schulte, who will see the time on the mound and also in the infield.
“We are grateful to have the opportunity to chase that ring, not only for us, but for the seniors who did not get the chance last year.”
Both the candidates in 2020 and those who returned to the program had the chance to be together for more than a dozen games last summer in the Western Pennsylvania Baseball League, a commitment that is born out of the canceled spring season.
For Gateway, the summer experience led to autumn training with a view to the 2021 campaign.
“Every time you can get more reps, whatever they are, and when you can get them, it’s a big thing,” said Gateway coach Mark Wardzinski, who is entering his eighth year at the helm of the Gators.
“For the most part, we had half of this team playing on the university team in the summer, and the other half playing JV. But they got about the same number of representatives and games. When JV got around 14 games and varsity got 18, it was almost like a regular varsity season. We then played one or two games every week in the fall.
“Through all of this, many of the younger kids got the chance to see what varsity baseball is all about.”
Wardzinski said the team rounded up in form as much as possible with weight training and conditioning in the weeks leading up to the season, and continued it with more opportunities to get on the field in dry conditions under sunny skies since the start of preseason practice on March 8.
“These guys have been working hard towards this season and are really building that camaraderie,” Wardzinski said.
“Over the next week, the more we keep getting dirty, the better. Whenever it does not rain, the boys will go out. It does not matter how cold it is. Indoors, it seems as if you are stuck in the groove where there is the same set of exercises. When you get outside, everything opens up and it feels more like baseball. ”
Also back with experience from two years ago are juniors Ryan Greggerson (first base) and Grady Otterman (second base / shortstop). Both are expected to strengthen the pitching staff with Jackson and Schulte.
Junior Carsen Engleka took a couple of fights as a first-year student with a backup of Jordan Stancovich, and he is determined to take over the full-time fishing tasks this year.
Gateway hoped to get a chance to test their abilities on Monday with a home game against Pine-Richland. The Gators are set to host criticism at 4pm on Thursday against Burrell before the season opener on Tuesday at home against Peters Township.
Junior Will Roper, a tool infielder, will be in the university lineup for the first time. Wardzinski said he is impressed with the strength and accuracy.
Senior Justin Longo is expected to man the right field.
Gateway will mix it up in sections 1-5A with Franklin Regional, Latrobe, Kiski Area, McKeesport and Penn-Trafford.
Franklin Regional was undefeated at 12-0 in the 2019 section, followed by Gateway at 9-3. Kiski Area is the only other teamover for this year’s section.
All section games will be home games on weekdays in a row. WPIAL unveiled this new format in May last year as a way to prevent a team from running the same starting pitcher in both section games. Pitching depth will be revealed.
“It’s hard to measure every year how the section is going to go,” Wardzinski said. “There are so many factors. It will be difficult to compare before we play these teams. ”