Ridgway baseball enters the new season with a senior-laden team ready to compete in District 9.
Ridgway started last season with an 8-3 record but faded in the second month of the season, finishing 4-5 in the final nine games. Ridgway lost in the first round of the playoffs to eventual District 9 champion Elk County Catholic.
“Baseball, it tends be a game where little things matter and it seemed like once May came around we lost our focus and we just were not doing the small, routine things we needed to at the crucial times whether it was during an at-bat or out on the field,” Ridgway coach Mark Morelli said. “For whatever reasons, we just could not sustain the confidence level we had in April into the last three weeks of the season.”
Morelli spoke about the experience coming back and feels strongly about the team’s defensive prowess.
“We have some good experience back and we should be a strong defensive team,” Morelli said. “But we don’t have a lot of experience depth-wise and we need to develop a few more arms with our pitching rotation. But if there is one area that set us back last year it was hitting the ball. Our overall team batting average at the end of last season was the lowest since I have been running the program and it is a major area of emphasis for improvement this spring. It sounds so simple, it is a round ball and a round bat and you have to hit the ball squarely but we struggled at times with executing a basic baseball fundamental. Even though it is early, we have shown some promising results in our pre-season practices. Our kids are certainly capable of putting together a solid effort that can run through the season and into the playoffs.”
Six starters return on this year’s team. Kevin Kilhoffer comes in after hitting .275 (16-for-58) last season with nine RBI. Josh Mitchell has the leading average for a returning starter, he hit .366 (22-for-60) with six home runs and 32 RBI. D.J. Skraba comes off a solid .260 (13-for-50) season with nine RBI and Ben Jaques had a .237 (14-for-59) average with 10 RBI. Jesse Gardner had a .243 (10-for-41) average with 12 RBI and Alex Dickant had a .200 average (9-for-45) with 12 RBI.
Morelli said the team looks strong on defense and has all three starting outfielders back from last season, Skraba, Jaques and Dickant. Gardner returns at third base, Kilhoffer is back at second and the combination of Mitchell and Lou Stilwell are back at first base. Morelli also noted the team’s good attitude.
However, Morelli is worried about the team’s pitching depth, consistency at the plate and lack of work on the field due to weather. Overall, Morelli said the senior leadership is a major positive entering the season.
“Losing Joe Chittester, Sam Skraba and Derek Gaffey to graduation is a lot to account for but this squad has nine seniors and appears to be rounding into shape,” Morelli said. “The team is anxious to get the season going and see where they stand. There are some very good teams to contend with this year. ECC is the obvious favorite only losing one starter off a D-9 championship team, Johnsonburg should be strong, Smethport is going to be a team to watch and Brockway has a lot returning. The D-9 area is going to be quite competitive this season.”
As of March 22, Ridgway baseball has nine seniors listed on this year’s team which are Alex Dickant, Jesse Gardner, Ben Jaques, Ricky Jay Javier, Kevin Kilhoffer, Derek Mattiuz, D.J. Skraba, Trevor Sheasley and Lou Stilwell.
There are four juniors on this year’s team, they are Slade Horner, Ryan McClelland, Aaron Sorge and Jay Launer. Eight sophomores are on the Elker baseball team, they are Joe Jaques, Josh Mitchell, Zac McKnight, Evan Nourse, Jesse Reynolds, Sam Roselli, John Wildnauer, Andrew Wolff. The three freshman on this year’s team are Karl Fredoroski, Bill Gnan and Mike Popson.
Head coach Mark Morelli (58-43 overall, 3-4 D-9 playoffs) is assisted by coaches Joe Luchs and Joe LaBenne on the varsity level. Justin Burkhouse is the junior varsity head coach, he will be assisted by Mike Marroni and Bob Colgan.
Sorge, Reynolds, Javier and Stilwell are returning letter winners. There are 10 overall letter winners on this year’s team.
Ridgway will play in the Altoona Curve Tournament on April 8-9. The Elkers face off against Bishop Guilfoyle on April 8.