Eagle baseball team strong in both experience, leadership

In 2006, the Tyrone Golden Eagles were an average baseball team with above average players – a dichotomy that at times frustrated manager Tom Coleman.
On the one hand, there were players like seniors Tyler Golden (.415 batting average, 4-2 as a starter), Tyler Gillmen (.423 batting average, 31 RBI) and Jamie Levinson (.368, 2.78 ERA), who led the team in most offensive categories.
On the other hand, there were game performances that would be hard to characterize as anything but duds, like a 10-0 loss to Altoona and an 18-3 loss to Philipsburg-Osceola.
The problem, Coleman said, was consistency, and maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering the Eagles were rebuilding at nearly every position after graduating a large senior class from the year before.
That’s not an issue the Eagles will have to deal with this season. Of Tyrone’s starting eight position players from last year’s 10-9-1 finish, which included a loss in the first round of the District 6-AA playoffs, six return. Four pitchers are back with starting experience, along with five hitters who batted above .300.
More importantly, last year’s inexperienced juniors and wide-eyed sophomores are a year older, with strong leadership and clear-cut goals according to Coleman, so consistency may not be the problem it was a year ago.
“You’ve got to have the players believe in themselves, and that’s the biggest difference I see this year,” said Coleman. “They believe they can win a lot of games. With that, attitude, it keeps me as a coach from having to always preach to keep your spirits up and face adversity. If all the pieces fall together at the right time, we can make a run.”
The Eagles stand to show their most improvement on the mound, where they lost only one regular in Josh Clark, who worked his way into the rotation by the end of last season to finish with a 3-0 record and a 2.33 ERA. Golden, the squad’s biggest workhorse, will lead this year’s rotation after logging a team-high 38 innings, striking out 26 and posting a 6.07 ERA in 2006.
Levinson worked 22 2/3 innings and finished with a 2-2 record, and Randy Hoover went 1-0 in 11 innings. Junior Mike Romano is also expected to work into the mix, after sitting out last season with an arm injury.
The X-factor of the staff is Gillmen, who after a solid 2-2 season as a sophomore was hit hard in 2006, finishing with an 0-4 record and an ERA that topped out over 11.
“To win games, a lot of things play an important role, and number one is pitching,” Coleman said. “We had the pitching last year, but they were inconsistent. In the preseason, we’ve just been working on throwing strikes and the mechanical stuff. I expect a lot from our top three in Gilly, Golden and Levinson.”
Along with that pitching comes one of the strongest lineups in Division III of the MAC. At the top of it is senior Justin Schopp, who in his debut season in 2006 batted .333 and scored 19 runs. The combination of Golden, Levinson and Gillmen will fall somewhere in the middle, after last year combining for 72 hits, 60 RBI and 20 hits for extra bases.
Sophomore power hitter Johnny Shaffer will strengthen Tyrone’s already solid middle of the order, on the heels of a freshman season that saw him tear apart junior varsity pitching.
Shaffer will also work into the mix on the infield, taking over at first base to lock up the one infield position left open after last season. Short and second will be filled by any combination of Gillmen, Levinson, Hoover and Golden, depending on the pitching rotation, while third will most likely be filled by junior Matt Brooks, who started there most of last season.
Gillmen could also play in the outfield, along with Romano and Schopp, who will shift to center field from right.
Also figuring into Tyrone’s defensive alignment will be junior Donnie Hunter, a reliable utility player who last season batted .315 and saw action at different times as both an infielder and outfielder, while working as a relief pitcher off the bench.
“I feel more solid this year defensively than last year,” said Coleman.
Where Coleman feels most comfortable is in the level of leadership he’s gotten through the preseason from his senior class, which, he said, has approached the season with more defined goals heightened expectations.
“We have a great group of seniors,” he said. “They’re going to do whatever they can to hit their goals. They have goals of winning the league, making the playoffs, and they’re even talking about making that trip to Blair County Ballpark (for the District finals).”
Tyrone opens its season today on the road against Williamsburg.