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Experience should be key factor for 2004 Tyrone baseball squad

Tyrone manager Tom Coleman has nine good reasons why this year\’s Golden Eagle baseball team will be better than last year\’s version, which went 10-9 and at times played as well as any team in the Blair County League.
The Golden Eagles return nine players who spent last season as full or part-time starters and the experience they provide could be the key to Tyrone\’s re-emergence as a regional baseball power, something that hasn\’t happened since 1993.
“Only losing two players from last year\’s team brings us an experienced and athletic core of players,” Coleman said. “We need consistency in each game. Last year, I felt that we didn\’t play up to our potential and let several games get away. We need to go out and play 100 percent each game.”
Tyrone did at times last season have trouble closing games and staying focused when in the lead. A big reason for that was that the Eagles normally started as many as five sophomores and a freshman. Tyrone blew early leads in the first two weeks of the season against Huntingdon and Bellwood-Antis and later in the season lost to Bishop Guilfoyle after leading by seven late in the game.
But while those losses dampened an otherwise fruitful rebuilding season, Coleman is hoping they also taught his team something about competing at a high level.
“We need to find a way to manufacture runs when needed and put teams away when we\’re ahead,” Coleman said. “We need to play up to our ability. There were teams we lost to last year that I thought we were better than, but we played at their level.”
That\’s a big reason Coleman and his assistant – former varsity skipper Bill Vigne – have preached the fundamentals this season in the weeks leading up to Friday\’s opener on the road at Southern Huntingdon. Their message has been that consistently doing the little things translates into wins over a 20-game season.
“You can\’t give the other team an extra out or fail to run out a fly ball,” he said. “You can\’t fail to back someone up – those are things that can win or lose ball games. There are a lot of concerns, but if we fix them I\’m very optimistic about our season.”
He should be. Of the nine letter-winners that return, three are ready to provide quality innings in the pitching rotation, two hit over .340 last season, and five logged hefty innings in the infield as juniors and sophomores, giving the Eagles what should be a solid defense.
Fastballer Max Soellner and crafty southpaw Barry Gummo are back to lead the Eagles pitching staff. Both seniors registered two wins last season and both were tough to hit when they had their good stuff.
Juniors Brandon Maceno and Brice Mertiff are also ready to make quality appearances to sure up the rotation.
But Mertiff won\’t be relied upon exclusively for his pitching or his defense. What Coleman needs most from the junior shortstop is to get his bat as hot throughout the entire season as it was for the final two-thirds of last year. After a slow start through the first three weeks of April, Mertiff found his groove and finished with a .380 batting average, three home runs, 17 RBI and 20 hits.
Soellner wasn\’t far behind with a .347 average and 15 RBI, and he led the team with seven extra-base hits.
What the Eagles needed was a more consistent performance from the rest of its young line-up. While most players had their moments – Nick Cushion hit well in spurts, Clint Wilson showed power at times and Ben Gummo battled back from a tough start to finish at .260 – few had enough consistency for Tyrone to count on anyone when it needed a hit.
Cushion (1B), Clint Wilson (1B, DH), Derrick Soellner (C), Max Soellner (OF, P), Maceno (2B, P), Ben Gummo (3B), Mertiff (SS), Barry Gummo (OF, P), and Jason Wilson (OF) make up Tyrone\’s returning letter-winners.
The Eagles\’ lone losses from last season were outfielder Tyler Mertiff, who was as good alead-off hitter on Tyrone\’s schedule, and pitcher Nick Friling.
After opening its season in Orbisonia against Southern Huntingdon on Friday, weather permitting, Tyrone will play 10 of its next 11 games at the Harry K. Sickler Sports Complex.