Saturday, March 15, 2014

WPIAL baseball teams head south for pivotal preparation

The WPIAL baseball is just getting underway and while we are a few weeks away from section play, next weekend's opening slate of games will help determine which teams will compete for a playoff spot.

Teams like Peters Township are heading to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to play some of the best competition in the country and as is the case with many teams, they will need to figure out their strengths and weaknesses as well as carving out roles for players. These tournaments may not hold much merit when it comes time for playoff seeding, but how a team responds to playing this competition could spark a run.

Last year, Canon-McMillan struggled at the Cal Ripken Tournament in Myrtle Beach, but they responded perfectly. The Big Macs found its strength on the mound and position players accepted their roles. The result was a section title and a push in the Class AAAA playoffs. Peters Township head coach Joe Maize praised Canon Mac's Frank Zebrasky for his ability to bring the Big Macs together. As is the case with a lot of coaches in WPIAL baseball, Maize struggled with the task of getting players to accept their roles and to put team success before individual performance.

The size of a baseball roster requires some players to see limited playing time or playing time in particular situations. Teams need to accept what it takes to battle for a section title and after the Indians missed the playoffs because of player reluctance, Maize took full blame.

"That was my fault for not getting the message across to some of the players and some of the parents the last couple of years," Maize said. "There were too many people worried about playing time issues. I try to play people as much as I can and when some weren’t playing, negative things came and you could feel it. It wasn’t a bad attitude, but sometimes when kids are sitting in the dugout pouting, that rubs off."

The lack of team-first mentality led to the Indians missing the playoffs for only the second time in 16 years. Another aspect of next weekend's tournament play that will play a pivotal role once section games begin is how coaches prepare their team for the inevitable spring weather in Western Pennsylvania. With rain expected to postpone games, teams will be forced to play three days in a row and sometimes four. How coaches juggle their starting rotation, as well as the rest of their lineup, is critical for a playoff run.

Some see these trips to Myrtle Beach or Florida as an excuse for the kids to get a nice vacation, while starting the exhibition season, but these games often say a lot about what is to come in WPIAL baseball.

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