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Coleman has Golden Eagles ready to challenge for Blair County title

Tom Coleman has to be enjoying his third season as skipper of the Tyrone Golden Eagle baseball team.
Where many of his area contemporaries have spent the last three weeks jotting down and scratching out names on line-up cards looking for that right mix of athleticism and experience, Coleman hasn’t lost any sleep over dilemmas like those.
That’s because the Golden Eagles have both athleticism and experience. They also have youthful exuberance and a deep pitching rotation.
It’s the kind of mixture that makes Coleman believe the Eagles can be serious contenders for Blair County League and District VI championships if things progress as they should over their 20-game slate.
They’ll find out for sure today at 4 p.m. in Huntingdon when they open the season with a game against the 2001 Class AAA PIAA champion Bearcats.
“In my three years of coaching, this is no doubt the most athletic team I’ve had,” said Coleman, whose team finished 10-10 a year ago, losing in the first round of the District 6-AA playoffs to Central Cambria. “If we bloom at the right time, we could make a good run at the Blair County title and go deep into the playoffs.”
Bloom is the perfect way to express what Coleman hopes the Eagles can do, because – despite returning seven starters from last season – most of Tyrone’s lineup remains rather green with up to seven underclassmen in the starting line-up. Sophomores Ben Gummo (outfield), Brice Mertiff (left field-third base) and Brandon Maceno (second base) each return at their positions, along with juniors Barry Gummo (first base) and Max Soellner (catcher). Junior Nick Cushion lettered as a utility infielder last season and is also back.
They’ll look to seniors Tyler Mertiff (catcher-pitcher-shortstop) and Nick Friling (center field-pitcher) for direction, particularly early in the season when the Eagles seek to establish an identity.
“Last year, we started three freshmen,” said Coleman. “We’re young, but we have a lot of experience. Tyler Mertiff shows a lot of leadership and with him leading the way for some of our young players, we look to be very competitive and we’re optimistic.”
If the Eagles are to improve on a .500 record from a year ago and threaten for the BCL — a feat not accomplished since Coleman’s playing days from 1990-93 — two things will have to happen: Tyrone’s long-ball free line-up will have to produce consistently without the aid of a true power hitter and its pitching staff will have to be stronger in the late innings than it was a year ago.
Tyrone is devoid of a true deep threat at the plate, but Coleman is hoping the Eagles can make up for their lack of power with consistent crisp hitting.
“We don’t have a home run hitter, but from one through six in the order, we have a lot of kids who can put the ball in play,” Coleman said. “If we can do that, we’ll produce some runs. Brice Mertiff has been the one player who consistently hits sharp line drives, but other than that, we’re really not a powerful long ball team.”
The concern offensively is hitters seven, eight and nine. Their performance will decide whether Tyrone wins the two and three-run games or loses in the late innings after failing to hold a slim lead, as happened on more than one occasion last season.
“If the bottom of the order produces like we think it can, we won’t have to manufacture runs – they’ll come,” said Coleman. “Then we won’t have to rely solely on our pitchers, like we did last year.”
It would be easier to do so this season, because the Eagles’ staff is deep and experienced. Friling returns as the staff ace and will get the nod today against the ‘Cats. Max Soellner, Tyler Mertiff and Barry Gummo join him to give Tyrone a four-man starting rotation that Coleman said is “coming around.”
“We have a solid staff,” Coleman said. “Friling is our finesse pitcher. He doesn’t have overpowering speed but he has a lot of pitches. Tyler Mertiff can always give us innings. Max is getting better and better and Barry will be able to come in for us. That’s four quality pitchers and that’s what you need in high school.”
Brice Mertiff also has experience from last season and Ben Gummo and Brandon Maceno can also provide innings.
Coleman said he expects heavy challenges for the BCL crown from Mount Union, Bellwood-Antis and Moshannon Valley.
But it all starts today with a non-conference game against perennial power Huntingdon. It’s an interesting matchup for Tyrone after practicing outdoors just three times this season.
“It’s tough with the weather after not being out much this season, but Huntingdon has had to deal with it too,” said Coleman.