Categories
Sports Tyrone Daily Herald Archives

Shaffer, Desch, late season surge, new coach highlight 2008 Eagles baseball

Final game victory
Left-handed sophomore Eric Desch pitches against Bald Eagle Area. Desch finished his first varsity season with a 4-12 record and a 1.64 ERA. (The Daily Herald/Bob Miller)
Line drive
Tyrone junior Johnny Shaffer turns on a pitch against Bellwood-Antis. Shaffer led the Golden Eagles with a .442 batting average, and added 17 RBI and 10 runs scored. (The Daily Herald/Bob Miller)

It would be unfair to characterize Tyrone’s baseball coach Dustin Schoening as naïve as he started his first season as the Golden Eagles’ skipper – the first varsity coaching job of his career.
Overly optimistic may be a better way of describing it. Youthfully hopeful may be even better.
But semantics aside, by the final third of Tyrone’s seasons, most of the warm feelings Schoening had for his team in March were spilling down the drain. The Golden Eagles were 2-8 and going nowhere until Schoening delivered a wake-up call to his veterans.
Tyrone had a game cancelled due to rain and Schoening planned to use the extra time for his players to take batting practice in the high school gym. Unfortunately for him, attendance was about as strong as a Florida Marlins double-header, with most of the starters opting, unbeknownst to their head coach, to take the day off.
A day later at Philipsburg-Osceola, Schoening decided to give them one more free day, benching seven starters in what became an ugly 11-1 five-inning loss. It didn’t do much for the old record, but it did infuse some life in the Golden Eagles, who went on to finish the season with wins in five of their last seven games, including a victory over Class AA District 6 king and defending state champion Bald Eagle Area in the season finale.
And while Tyrone’s 7-11 record may not have been what Schoening had in mind for his first season when he took the job, it was a dramatic step up from where they had been in early April.
“I would characterize my first season of coaching as more than what I expected. I don’t think there is any way to prepare mentally for what you are getting into as a varsity coach,” said Schoening. “It was a learning experience for me and my staff. You could say we improved as the season went on. I felt like we went through some ups and downs like you would expect to have with teenagers in a sport like baseball.”
The sudden shifts in fortune for the Eagles were at times dramatic, as one might expect from a team that started three sophomores and six underclassmen. So for every double-header sweep of Bellwood-Antis, there was a 10-2 loss to Central. For every 9-6 win over Mount Union, there was a 10-0 loss to Central Mountain.
But in the end, the good outweighed the bad for Schoening, thanks to the strong finish in May, as well as the promise of what returns next season. In 2009, the Eagles’ line up will be bolstered by four returning starters and six players with starting experience, including two of their biggest leaders in 2008.
No one was stronger in 2008 than first baseman John Shaffer, who led the club in his junior season with a .442 average with seven extra base hits, including a pair of home runs in the season finale. He drove in 17 runs and scored 10 times.
As a pitcher, Shaffer recovered from a slow start with strong outings in his final two starts, when he opened both ends of the double-header against Bellwood-Antis. Shaffer won the first game, pitching all seven innings, and allowed just one run on one hit in the first two innings of game two. He ended with a 1-3 record.
He’ll be joined on the staff by 2008’s biggest surprise, sophomore Eric Desch, who in his first full varsity season showed a fierce competitive nature on the mound and quickly grew into his role as Tyrone’s No. 1 starter.
He won his first start against Penns Valley, striking out 10 while going the distance, and finished the season by defeating BEA.
Desch wound up with a 4-1 record and 1.64 ERA.
“Shaffer was such a leader offensively. He always kept his cool and found a way to get some huge hits for us,” said Schoening. “Desch was a warrior on the mound. His competitiveness is second to none and he always found a way to get the job done when he pitched. They are both blessed with a tremendous amount of talent.”
Also returning will be Doug Rudy, a starter since his freshman season who trails only Shaffer in varsity experience, and Jordan Taylor, who emerged as a regular at the designated hitter spot.
Like many sophomores, Rudy had an inconsistent season, both at the plate and in the field. From his position at shortstop, he led the team in errors with eight, while also demonstrating one of the best arms on the club. At the plate, he batted just .173, but he also reached base enough to score 11 runs. Over one four-game stretch he went 6-for-17 with three runs.
Taylor, another sophomore, grew into the Eagles’ designated hitter role by mid-season and finished the campaign 6-for-29 (.206). What the numbers don’t show is his ability to hit with power and drive in runs. Taylor finished with 5 RBI.
While Tyrone’s young core is what has the team optimistic for the future, it was the seniors who helped pull the team up from the ashes late in the season. Senior Randy Hoover, for example, was a relief pitcher and utility player since his sophomore season, never getting regular at-bats until earning the starting nod at third base this season. He finished batting .307 with 13 runs, good enough to lead the club.
Mike Moore and Aaron Cunningham were in similar situations. Both had been on the varsity roster since 2006, but 2008 was the first time they worked as everyday players. Moore made the most of his time, splitting between the designated hitter and second base, and compiling a .326 average, 9 RBI, two doubles and a home run.
Cunningham was set to assume the starting position at centerfield last season before a hip injury ended those hopes in his first game as a starter. He rebounded in 2008 to finish second on the team in at-bats from his lead-off position, batting .207 with three doubles.
Cunningham also controlled the outfield, using his speed to track down anything within the 814 area code and committing just two errors, second on the team among everyday players.
The player with the fewest flubs was catcher Brock Anders, a three-year starter behind the dish who committed just one error his senior season. Anders also batted .260, including a team-high five doubles, and completed his final campaign by collecting three hits against BEA.
Outfielder Donnie Hunter ended his third straight season as a letter winner by batting .282 with 11 RBI and two doubles.
Matt Brooks, who was forced to switch positions after starting for two years at third base, suffered uncharacteristic struggles at the plate. A career .315 hitter coming into the season, Brooks led the team in at-bats with 55, but hit just .185 and scored 9 runs.
But Brooks found other areas to shine, namely the pitcher’s mound, where he joined the starting rotation for the first time. He quickly became a workhorse, chewing up innings like Dentine, allowing just 7 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings for a 3.52 ERA. He had a complete-game victory over Williamsburg May 1 and threw 7 2/3 for a no decision April 25 against Juniata Valley, finishing with a 1-1 record in five appearances.
“I thought (the seniors) were all very close and tremendous competitors,” Schoening said. “They all contributed in so many ways and we will definitely miss them.”
Brook’s performance on the bump was emblematic of Tyrone’s season: on days when he had his best stuff, winning was still difficult for the Eagles because some other area was lacking. In his extra-inning game against the Hornets, Brooks allowed only three runs, but Tyrone lost 4-3 in 9 innings, going scoreless in five of the last six frames. Brooks shut down Triple-A Indian Valley, allowing just two earned runs, but he had zero runs in support as his teammates mustered only three hits.
That changed as May wore on, but just when the Eagles were ready to turn the page – needing a win in their final home game against Central to enter the District 6 playoffs – some of the old problems resurfaced. Against the Dragons, the Eagles managed only six hits, while the pitching staff was drubbed for 14 hits.
The inconsistency in part can be attributed to Tyrone’s youth, a problem that could remain next season, even when the Eagles’ Fab 4 returns. It also had a lot to do with mental errors leading to physical errors – the Eagles committed 44 errors and had four games where they committed five.
That’s something that will have to improve if the Eagles hope to survive in the Mountain League.
“(Next year we should) be very talented but young,” Schoening said. “We have some experience back and our pitching is going to be our strength and we need to improve hitting the ball and on defense.”