2016 Season Preview: PIAA District VII (Class AAA)

By Jacob Gill
Pennsylvania Assistant Director of Scouting

Back to the WPIAL we go as we continue the home stretch of our district preview series, which is running for three weeks up to the first official PIAA competition date on March 24. Each article includes a list of top prospects from amongst the cohort of schools, as well as write-ups of a number of teams in the cohort.

We received inquiries last year regarding how we decide which teams to detail. A team profiled in the article is less an indication of what type of season we expect it to have and more a function of how much information we are able to compile. For example, if we have not seen a team in person (there are over 600 baseball-playing high schools in the state), stats are not available on-line, and a school district spam filter gobbled up our e-mails to the coach that contained the questionnaire, we might not have enough information to write a full paragraph on that school.

[mouse over pics for player names]

PIAA District VII Class AAA Top Prospects

Trent VietmeierZach SchultzAlex StobertMark EngelDominic Peroni

1. Trent Vietmeier, 2017, RHP, Montour (Louisiana State)
2. Dominick Bucko, 2017, OF, Knoch (Kent State)
3. Zach Schultz, 2016, RHP, Indiana Area (Kent State)
4. Cole Shinsky, 2016, LHP, Knoch (Ohio)
5. Jack Anderson, 2018, Mars Area (Northwestern)
6. Alex Stobert, 2016, RHP, Knoch (Tallahassee CC)
7. Brady Gulakowski, 2016, C, Chartiers Valley (Pittsburgh)
8. Mark Engel, 2017, IF/RHP, Blackhawk (Radford)
9. Dominic Peroni, 2016, 3B, Laurel Highlands, (Potomac State)
10. Joseph Sibeto, 2016, C, Chartiers Valley (Gulf Coast State)
11. Jonathan Pence, 2017, RHP, Blackhawk
12. Jordan Zilka, 2017, C, Belle Vernon Area
13. Jake Callaway, 2017, 3B/RHP, Belle Vernon Area
14. Bo Haines, 2018, OF, Ringgold
15. Michael Turconi, 2018, IF, Blackhawk

Jon PenceJordan ZilkaJake CallawayBo HainesMichael Turconi

Section 1

Jimmy NixonAdam RobinsonAll things considered, Blackhawk, which finished as the section runner-up and bowed out in a one-run game in the WPIAL quarterfinals to eventual state champ Knoch, adjusted rather well to life without National Freshman of the Year Brendan McKay. All-section RHP Pence (53 IP, 52 K) and Engel (44 IP, 30 K) are back to reprise their roles atop the rotation that will also have innings available for senior RHPs Nick Zuchelli and Hunter Hagy. Also a shortstop, Engel is one of seven returning position player regulars for coach Bob Amalia, who welcomes back a pair of all-section performers -- senior infielder Adam Robinson and junior outfielder Jimmy Nixon -- plus second baseman Turconi and first baseman Zuchelli.

Hopewell returns its entire infield, including senior first baseman Austin Tisch (.262 AVG) and senior shortstop Griffin Curry (.333 AVG). Senior outfielder Tim Sabo (.367 AVG) and sophomore catcher Mitch Heranic (.333 AVG) will also contribute to run production for a line-up that graduated only three regular starters. Coach Michael Shuleski will ask the southpaw duo of Tisch and sophomore Joey Rock to assume larger roles behind all-section ace RHP Sabo (52.1 IP, 44 H, 18 BB, 36 K) and junior RHP Anthony Bonavita (26 IP, 13 H, 4 BB, 5 K).

Scott HughesDespite graduating 11 from last year's roster, Central Valley will again have an older club, with a dozen seniors looking to assert themselves. A pair of senior RHP/IF -- Scott Hughes (all-section as a pitcher) and Garren Telesz -- will lead the way on the mound and at the plate. Senior RHP Devin Hennessy and senior 1B/OF Matt Kennelly will also be major contributors for coach Ray Antonelli, who might be compelled to find playing time for a handful of sophomores as well.

Other schools and returning all-section players
Ambridge Area - none
Beaver Area - none
Lincoln (Ellwood City) - none
New Castle Area - none

Section 2

NOTE: This section lost a member when Kittanning merged with 2A Ford City to form what is now 4A Armstrong High School.

Cole ShafferVirtually the entire pitching staff returns for Indiana Area, fronted by all-section selection Schultz (46 IP, 25 H, 18 BB, 54 K), with senior RHPs Cameron Allmendinger and Chase Kormer, along with junior RHP Thomas Budash, set to assume larger roles after a smattering of appearances last year. OF/1B Schultz (.429 AVG, 9 XBH, 14 BB vs 7 K) and Clarion-bound shortstop Cole Shaffer (.292 AVG, 9 BB vs 6 K), an all-section honoree at catcher, will set the pace for coach Larry Cadile's offense, which will also turn to junior third baseman Bobby Bell, junior IF/C Brayden Lorelli, and OF/2B Allmendinger for run production.

Although the Trojans do have seven starters returning, twenty of the 27 players on the Derry Area varsity and taxi squads are freshmen and sophomores. Setting the tone from the upperclass ranks for coach John Flickinger will be junior all-section RHP Josh Bauer (who also hit .368 as a full-time position player), junior IF/P Alex Ulery (.378 AVG), and senior 1B/C Devin Siko (.286 AVG, .407 OBP).

Yough will look to climb the standings on the strength of a predominantly intact roster, which includes the return of its top three pitchers in senior LHPs T.J. Lux and Nolan Kosh, plus senior RHP Shane Fajt. Coach Craig Spisak also has seven of nine line-up regulars back, led by senior outfielder Eric Borkovich, junior infielder Dom Charletta, senior infielder Matt Huss, and Kosh.

Other schools and returning all-section players
Greensburg Salem - none
Mt. Pleasant Area - senior first baseman Jared Kristoff, senior infielder Jeremy Paul
Southmoreland - senior first baseman Doug Leighty

Section 3

Adam CelidoniaBrady MinettiState quarterfinalist Montour and coach Glenn Vietmeier enter the season in position for an encore performance of their deep playoff run. Virtually the entire pitching staff returns, including its top three performers from last season: all-section Trent Vietmeier (42.1 IP, 23 H, 10 BB, 60 K), Seton Hill-bound LHP Brian Dabney (33.1 IP, 28 H, 10 BB, 27 K), and senior RHP Chris Hanlon (29 IP, 30 H, 15 BB, 28 K). Powering an offense that will miss junior first baseman Zachary McGowan (.328 AVG; out due to ACL tear) will be infielder Vietmeier (.379 AVG), all-section Indiana of PA-bound shortstop Kailen Grimm (.300 AVG), Lake Erie-bound second baseman Brady Minetti, all-section outfielder Frankie Guerra, and Lock Haven-bound catcher Adam Celidonia.

Konnor CorchadoCole HorewChartiers Valley twice narrowly missed out on clinching a state berth last season, dropping one-run games in the WPIAL semis and third-place game, the latter in extra innings. Three of the team's top four pitchers return in the persons of senior all-section IF/RHP Cole Horew (61 IP, 48 H, 10 BB, 43 K) and West Virginia Wesleyan-bound RHP Ryan Reicoff (20.2 IP, 21 H, 5 BB, 9 K) and senior Spencer Carlson (18.2 IP, 14 H, 13 BB, 23 K). Seven of nine position player starters are back as well, led by Gulakowski (.389 AVG, 12 BB vs 7 K), junior infielder Dante Panucci (.328 AVG, 10 XBH, 9 BB vs 7 K), Horew (.329 AVG), and senior infielder Eddie Flohr (.328 AVG, 12 SB). Also returning after seeing significant action as rookies is the sophomore outfielde duo of Steve Alauzen and Konnor Corchado.

Chasen ClausDistrict runner-up West Allegheny didn't graduate a large number of bodies, but the ones that did depart were highly impactful, including its top two starters and three of its top offensive weapons. Those departures were compounded when it was determined that sophomore RHP/1B Connor Johnsen and junior C/RHP Justin Usenicnik will miss the season due to injury. Nonetheless, its hard to discount a program with the Indians' history of success. The top returning quartet of pitchers -- junior LHPs Michael Crawford and Steve Twardy, senior RHP Cameron Duffett, and junior RHP Nick Ross -- combined to log just 26 innings last year (allowing 9 H and 18 BB vs 37 K). Also an outfielder, Duffett will look to move from a part-time to full-time role on offense as well, joining returning starters in senior third baseman Jake Cunningham, shortstop Ross, and junior catcher Chasen Claus in steadying coach Bryan Cornell's line-up.

Blake RohrbacherTrinity expects to lean on a trio of two-way performers this spring: senior RHP/OF Garrett Briant, sophomore RHP/IF Logan Defillippo, and junior RHP/IF Nick Herrnberger. Also expected to contribute for coach Matthew McCartney are junior LHP Kyle Kelley, senior catcher Blake Rohrbacher, and senior outfielder Evan McDaniel.

McGuffey coach Scott Henson welcomes back thirteen of fifteen players from last season. The senior RHP duo of Dan Orr and Connor Thompson will team with the junior RHP tandem of Ed Shingle and Mike Novak to log the bulk of the innings, while the offense will be sparked by a pair of infielders in senior Dakota  Wilkinson and junior Jordan Reeves.

Other schools and returning all-section players
South Fayette - none

Section 4

Justin IvillTeam chemistry shouldn't be an issue at Belle Vernon Area, where the entire line-up and all but one of the team's primary pitchers returns. Junior C/1B Jordan Zilka (.271 AVG, 9 BB + 8 HBP vs 4 K) and senior infielder Justin Ivill (.303 AVG, 12 SB) will team with a trio of all-section honorees -- senior infielder Evan Hannan (.296 AVG, 12 BB vs 6 K), junior third baseman Jacob Callaway (.347 AVG), and junior outfielder Mikey Fine (.344 AVG) -- to power an experienced offense. Senior RHP Matt Benicky, junior RHPs Joel Engstrom and Callaway, and senior LHP Eric Harkins will look to step up on coach Daryl Hixenbaugh's pitching staff that graduated its ace. Keep an eye out for freshman shortstop Josh Hoffman to make an impact early in his career.

Laurel Highlands has a strong offensive core returning in Peroni, the senior all-section duo of catcher Zach Uhazie and infielder Troy Kifer, senior outfielder Lucas Boyle and senior catcher Garrett Kopich. Having two quality backstops comes in handy when one of them, Uhazie, is also a primary innings-eater on coach Scott DeBerry's staff, where he is joined by senior RHP Luke Paull and junior RHP Hudson Novak.

Adam MorrisTwo-thirds of the regular line-up is gone at South Park, where coach Steve Bucci will lean on a trio of returners -- all-section outfielder Adam Morris (.317), junior Josh Wagner (.339 AVG), and senior Zack Panian (.279 AVG) -- to carry the offensive load, while youngsters such as the sophomore duo of Eric Vaughn and Tyler Bywalski get initiated. Junior RHP Kyle Thompson (30.2 IP, 26 H, 8 BB, 16 K) is the lone holdover to log double-digit innings on a pitching staff that will have LHP Morris, freshman LHP Kevin Vauple, and Bywalski jockeying for a role behind him.

Uniontown Area coach Ken Musko will carry a senior-laden line-up card in his pocket this spring. The senior duo of infielder Carter Waligura (.420 AVG) and catcher Christian Forsythe (.375 AVG) will power a predominantly upperclass offense that could see a few sophomores make an impact. Senior RHPs Mark Fike and Colby Simmons are back as rotation stalwarts, while junior LHP Aaron Skinner should carve out a role for himself.

West Mifflin Area is staring at a major overhaul this spring, having graduated its top three pitchers and the majority of its line-up. Senior shortstop Cory Saus returns to anchor the infielder and spark a speed-based offense that will also feature senior outfielder Josh Fodor, sophomore infielder Jonathan Taylor, and junior outfielder Keyshawn Andress. Back from injury, LHP Fodor will front coach Jeff Smith's pitching staff, while senior RHP Ryan Morouse and junior RHP Trevor Nelson will also toe the rubber often.

Other schools and returning all-section players
Elizabeth Forward - none
Ringgold - none
Thomas Jefferson - none

Section 5

Jacob HerritDespite some holes to fill in the middle of the diamond, it would be hard for state champ Knoch to find itself in a much better position to defend its crown. The all-section left-right rotation combo of Shinsky and Stobert are back to terrorize opponents, while senior Nick Guercio, junior Josh Campbell, and sophomore Jake Herrit could all log innings as well. All-section Bucko will again provide the offensive spark for coach George Bradley, who could turn to senior outfielders Guercio and Logan Hickey, junior infielders Mike McCarty, Campbell, P.J. Gourley, and Brandon Kowalski, plus utilityman Herrit and sophomore catcher Dylan Swarmer for major contributions.

Anthony MichalskiDespite graduating nearly 60% of its innings, the senior strike-throwing duo of David Anderson (28 IP, 33 H, 8 BB, 30 K) and Nico Romano (18.1 IP, 23 H, 3 BB, 16 K) appears capable of keeping Mars Area in ballgames. Two-thirds of the Fightin' Planets starting line-up is gone as well, leaving sophomore Anthony Michalski (.349 AVG), Anderson (.333 AVG), and senior Zarek Simkovich (.411 AVG) to hold the fort while their untested teammates get acclimated. The line-up could get a big boost with the transfer of slugging sophomore catcher Jack Anderson from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.

A sophomore- and junior-heavy roster will be at the disposal of Valley coach Doug Aftanas, as he looks to replace six starters and two primary members of his pitching rotation.  Senior RHP Jordan Frame is back after leading the staff in innings, while an inexperienced group that includes junior RHP Noah Aftanas, junior RHP Jeremy Iellimo, and sophomore RHP Dan Antonacci will jockey for work behind him. Frame could hold down a corner infield spot as well, joining sophomore catcher Jake McNabb and Iellimo, a returning starter at shortstop, in buoying the line-up.

Other schools and returning all-section players
Deer Lakes - junior infielder Zach Lubick, senior pitcher Ryan Petrone
Freeport Area - none
Hampton - none
Highlands - none

Season Preview Schedule

3/2 - PAISAA
3/3 - PIAA District V
3/4 - PIAA District IX
3/5 - PIAA District VI
3/6 - PIAA District IV
3/7 - PIAA District X
3/8 - PIAA District III (Class A & AA)
3/9 - PIAA District VII (Class A)
3/10 - PIAA District VII (Class AA)
3/11 - PIAA District II
3/12 - PIAA District XI
3/13 - PIAA District I (Class A, AA & AAA)
3/14 - PIAA District III (Class AAA)
3/15 - PIAA District VII (Class AAA)
3/16 - PIAA District I (Class AAAA)
3/17 - PIAA District III (Class AAAA)
3/18 - PIAA District VII (Class AAAA)
3/19 - PIAA District XII