Apr. 13—When looking at a new high school season, there is a tendency to peek at the previous year’s champions and see what they have coming back for the new campaign.
But what happens when there was no last season?
Fair or not, many of the 2019 champions were labeled teams to watch here in 2021.
After winning WPIAL gold two years ago, Shaler baseball coach Brian Junker is OK with high expectations this season for his Titans.
“We have some of the same players, and we had a couple kids transfer in,” he said. “So I believe we have more talent than 2019, but we are far away from turning into a championship team. However, I believe these guys will put in what is necessary, and that is exciting.”
The start toward a repeat began last week with a pair of games against Chartiers Valley to open play in Section 3-5A. Shaler won 10-0 at home on Tuesday and 4-0 on the road on Wednesday.
“On Tuesday, I felt we hit the ball really well and when their pitchers fell behind, we made them pay,” Junker said. “We threw enough strikes and made all the plays. Alec Engelmore had a good start, going all five innings.
“Wednesday, we pitched well again but only struck out four guys, which tells you how well our defense played. Our middle infield of Bryan Rincon and Braedan Campbell made some jaw-dropping plays. They are fun to watch.”
On Friday, Shaler improved to 4-1 with another shutout victory, 10-0 over Hampton in a Class 5A nonsection contest.
“In my opinion, it’s the first time we had a team down and actually showed a killer instinct,” Junker said. “In the past, we have let teams back in the game.
“We sprayed the ball all over the yard, and our No. 3 and 4 pitchers did the job, and I have been waiting to see if they could. Aidan Williams and Derick Leas were outstanding.”
Shaler pitchers overall have been lights out this season. They have outscored their five opponents 29-6, including 24-0 this past week.
“They worked fast and filled up the (strike) zone,” Junker said. “They were impressive, but they know there is room for improvement. We also know that there is a long way to go if we want to get where we want to be.”
Junker mentioned players who are off to a good start and really shined bright this past week in the Titans’ three victories.
“Junior Bryan Rincon is pounding the ball from both sides of the plate while playing shortstop like we have never seen before,” he said. “Senior Braedan Campbell has come up with the big hits when needed just like a veteran would. He has started for us since he was a freshman.
“Senior Tre Junker is another guy who has been around forever and is starting to show some power at the plate. Senior Alec Englmore was also part of our 2019 team and had done the job on the mound and at the plate. Sophomore Miguel Hugas is a new guy to the program but has been stellar in center field and on the mound.
“Junior Noah Gabriel is the team leader in hits. He’s a put-your-head-down-and-work-your-behind-off type of kid. Freshman Brady Mcguire will be a future Titans shortstop, but we had to get him on the field somehow. He has an elite baseball IQ and has been in the outfield since we have a top-of-the-line infield.”
With two games against Moon coming up this week and South Fayette, West Allegheny and North Hills down the road, Junker is happy with the start but knows there is a lot of work to do coming up.
“I think they’re still learning what it takes to be champions, but that is our goal,” he said. “(The 2020 season), I think hurt us from a culture standpoint, and that is everything to us. So it almost feels like starting over on what we expect from these kids on and off the field. Once we get that straightened out, the sky is the limit.”
2021 Trib HSSN Baseball Teams of the Week
Week 1 — Valley Vikings