Youthful Elkers progressing through new baseball season with early wins

Ridgway baseball has turned the page after a 4-win 2011 season. The Elkers come into this new season with new faces in key positions and just two returning starters. “Without a doubt this will be the youngest team I’ve had in my six years as the head coach,” Ridgway coach Mark Morelli said. “We have two seniors on the roster but the underclassmen have some good athletes and they live to play baseball. We have a nice freshman class and several good looking kids who will help us this year. We may take some lumps here and there but our goal is to improve as the year goes on and finish the season with a better record than last year’s mark. With a few breaks here and there, a .500 or better record is not out of a question.”Ridgway finished just 4-15 last season after making the District 9 playoffs each of the last four seasons under Morelli. The team posted 5-year lows in batting averages, hits and runs scored. He said the new season is viewed as a fresh start with renewed hope and a renewed enthusiasm. Morelli spoke of the new attitude and an example of it before the season even started. “The new attitude this team has for the upcoming season was best exemplified when the basketball team was making their historic playoff run,” Morelli said. “Jesse Reynolds, Josh Mitchell, JoJo Jaques and Sam Roselli would go to baseball practice from 4:30 to 6:30 then turn around and go to basketball practice from 7 to 9. Their actions have really pointed this team in the right direction as far as what we expect. All four of them deserve a big hand for their dedication. Sharing athletes in a small school is paramount to helping each other out, it is something I believed in back in the early part of my head coaching career in football when we shared the athletes with the golf and soccer teams. Coach Anthony Allegretto and I go back a long ways and we support each other 110 percent.”Morelli said two juniors will be the cornerstones of the team this season. Josh Mitchell returns as the ace of the pitching staff and a stalwart in the middle of the lineup. Mitchell finished last season with a .387 average (19-for-49) with three home runs and 20 RBI. Fellow junior Jesse Reynolds will be the team’s No. 2 pitcher. He finished with a .228 average last season.Contrasting the juniors are a group of freshmen who have already seen playing time. Second baseman Josh Roselli, catcher/pitcher Ben MacDonald and Mike Covac all played and made contributions in the team’s season opener, an 8-3 win over Kane. “Despite our youth, we have always been a solid defensive team because we stress the fundamentals,” Morelli said. “But we need to have better plate discipline, more quality at-bats, hit better in the clutch and move runners along. I’d like to think we will be a fielding a team that has more baseball savvy this season despite their inexperience on paper. For a few of our players this is the sport they live for. They are smart, intelligent and know the game, that is where the improvement starts, playing the game they way it should be played.” Morelli will be assisted by Joe Luchs, Joe LaBenne, Mike Lynch, Dan Johnson and Jerry Stenta. “Our coaching staff is very happy with the way the team has responded to the challenge of the season ahead,” Morelli said. “We have some young players who are going to be difference makers with this team. Generally when a team starts several young players you can expect some struggles, but this group of freshmen are an exception to that rule.”