Defending baseball champ Franklin Regional returns plenty

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Saturday, March 12, 2022 | 6:06 PM


Franklin Regional is not ready to loosen its grip on the WPIAL championship trophy just yet.

The Panthers’ baseball team captured its third title last season, first since 2001, and made the PIAA playoffs before finishing 19-2.

With eight seniors gone, you might expect a drop-off in talent and outlook.

There’s your first strike.

“The guys here understand what the expectations have been and continue to be,” coach Bobby Saddler said. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say we’re going to miss those guys we had last year. But a lot of guys that are still here had something to do with that championship, and they’re ready to take the torch.”

Saddler has six players who started at some point or another back to lead the chase for a repeat.

“Will it be easy? No,” Saddler said of competing for another championship. “But this team has talent, and they’re willing to put in the time. We had 30-plus guys for winter workouts and speed and strength training.”

Senior Caden Smith, a three-sport standout, is the cornerstone of the team. One of the better outfielders in 5A last year, he could be moving to an infield spot.

He also will pitch.

“I’ll play wherever,” Smith said. “I think we still have high-level talent and a good group of guys. I think our bats will be good again, and we’ll have a good fight for the ace spot.”

More stability — and durability — comes from additional seniors Jordan Suvak, an outfielder, and catcher Thomas Nicely, who will play at John Carroll and Penn State Behrend, respectively.

“I have been blessed with kids who love playing behind the dish,” Saddler said. “Thomas calls an excellent game.”

Nicely said the commitment remains strong in the program.

“Coach preaches about the same expectations every year,” he said. “We have been playing together for a while, and we’re all friends.”

Other key returnees include junior Anthony Alesi, senior infielder Jake Bridges and sophomores Max Bernadowski and Blake Bertucci.

A pair of left-handed hitters in the lineup will be senior Ryan DalCanton and senior Kyle Morgan.

DalCanton and junior Daniel Luko will work into the outfield mix.

Smith, Suvak, Bertucci and Morgan are working to configure a pitching rotation.

“There’s some depth there,” Saddler said. “We’re not really looking at one guy. It’s a cumulative staff. I just want them to come in and give us a chance to win the game.”

Also watch sophomore Owen Sinclair as a potential corner infielder.

Last year’s seniors were impressive, but those who played behind them are looking for their chance to shine.

Several went on to join college programs.

Louie Kegerreis (Delaware) hit .544 and Andrew Muraco (Coastal Carolina), .473. Muraco had the winning single to score Luke Treloar (Cal Pa.) in the WPIAL final when Franklin Regional edged Bethel Park, 2-1.

First baseman Tim Quinn (Mercyhurst) gave the Panthers home run power.

The Panthers will reboot a tradition that was interrupted by the pandemic the last two years: opening the season in Vero Beach, Fla.

“We want to compete for the section title again,” Saddler said. “Every team says that, and they should. We just want to be playing our best baseball at the end of the year.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter

tags: Franklin Regional

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