Uncommon Circumstances

Team mobs Freshman Jared Kollar after he gets the game winning hit against #1 Penn Trafford.
Team mobs Freshman Jared Kollar after he gets the game winning hit against #1 Penn Trafford.

Winning doesn’t come easy in any sport, and for the Latrobe Wildcat Baseball team, winning has been more than a challenge.

At the beginning of the season, the experienced team thought that success was going to be achieved. Coaches and players within were thinking of making the playoffs and a legitimate shot at a section title. News Sources such as the Tribune Review and Prep Baseball gave only “recognition” to the Wildcats for competitive teams in the section despite the experience and ten seniors returning to the team.

Although, the players and coaches have always believed they could win and that mentality is what matters most.

With hopes running high, the team has faced uncommon circumstances.

The team took a hard hit when they lost starters and important contributors to the team at the beginning of the season for various reasons. While it was a shock to the team to lose these key contributors, the question they needed to ask of themselves as individuals and as a team was “How are we going to respond?”

It would have been easy to throw the season away after losing four significant players, but the team has worked too hard, not only this offseason but for the past three or four offseasons. This was an opportunity to make the playoffs, for first the time since 2012, and win the section for the first time since 2004. More importantly, this was an opportunity to win together as a team for each other.

Most the team has grown up playing baseball together, especially the seven seniors. They were teammates as Little League All Stars, in Teener League, in Legion ball, in fall ball and now high school.

Current players had to step up and take on larger roles. They were placed in situations unexpectedly. Junior catcher Mike Rodgers, who is in his first year with the program, is a prime example. “I was both excited and a bit nervous. I knew it was going to be a big responsibility but I was ready to take on the challenge,” Rodgers about his starting position.

Other players have vital roles to the team. Senior Devin Onorato, who is known for cracking jokes and funny comments to keep the team’s morale up, is now realizing his more important role on the team. “As the jokester I like to keep the team loose and relaxed with Spongebob quotes and nicknames.” He also says it makes the team laugh and have a good time which carries over to the field in a positive way.

After the dust settled, the team started section play. The first two wins under their belt, a lack of offense was the issue for the first half of section play.

The Cats took their 2-0 record to Kiski. The Cavs came out and derailed the Cats’ pitching, which is a strong point for the team. The Wildcats took their first tough loss.

Defense and pitching are two strong points for the Cats, and keeps the team in each game and keeps the best teams and best hitting teams in the section to a minimum.

Senior Josh Keefe says the pitching staff is doing great things keeping hitters off balance and pitching to contact as the team’s defensive strategy is sticking to the fundamentals. “The infielder’s goal is to keep everything in front and knock everything down,” he said. He noted the outfield does a great job of keeping the ball in front of them as well. He knows that they are aggressive and not being afraid to “lay out” to get the ball.

Offensively, the struggles are frustrating. Players are getting into slumps, not being able to get hits. It’s contagious. If someone breaks out of their slump, someone else gets into one.

Everything began coming together against #5 in the WPIAL (according to “TribRankings”), Norwin. The Cats kept the game close and strung along hits but as the Cats dropped that game and went even in the section at 3-3.

When Latrobe took on Penn Trafford, who was ranked number one in the entire WPIAL, many didn’t think the Cats could win, except the team itself. The Cats got down early but the pitching from ace Jonathan Kolling kept them in the game – the way he has in so many other games in the past.

Kolling says he mixes up his pitches and keeps the other team off-balance. He gave credit to the defense that played very well behind him.

The Warriors took the lead late, but the Wildcats wouldn’t lay down to #1 that easy, scoring six times in the home half of the sixth inning, and getting a lead going to the top of the last inning with rain starting to pour down upon Legion Keener as though a foreshadowing of bad things to come.

PT did end up tying the game up due to three Wildcat errors, the first errors for the team in over five section games. But yet again, the Wildcats prevailed getting three men on base with no outs in the bottom of the seventh.

Up to bat was a freshman, who has firmly grasped his role as the designated hitter and leadoff hitter Jared Kollar who pitches as well. With a 3-1 count, bases loaded, no outs, bottom of the seventh, the kid prevailed – getting the game winning hit. The Cat upset #1 and turned the team’s season around.

“All the other players have made me feel like I was apart of the team, which has boosted my confidence and has helped me reach my goals,” Kollar said about getting the call up to varsity as a freshman.

Despite the team’s overall outcome, beating one of the best teams was certainly a morale and confidence booster. It was an example of how the team battles through adversity, not just in parts of a season, but one game, one at bat at a time.

For those who played in that game, they will never forget that win. A picture of gray, darkening skies and rain falling down, running to first base to mob the freshman who came through in the clutch.

The team still needs to rally against #3 Hempfield, who beat the Cats 4-0 in the first go around, and Kiski who also beat the a Cats before.

The players have finally started to get hits and now at timely situations, and they are competing for a section title in which three of the seven teams are ranked in the top five in the entire WPIAL.

The Wildcat baseball team believes it can win – and more importantly they believe in one another.