BY JEFF FALK
With its roots firmly grounded in a storied past, the Palmyra baseball team is focusing on the present, and with just one eye on the future.
In many ways, the Cougars are turning over a new leaf, starting with a clean slate and embracing a fresh beginning. What should be interesting to discover is where that direction takes them.
So what’s new with Palmyra? Well, first former JV coach John Karavage takes over the skipper duties from long-time head coach Tim Gingrich, who retired after 17 years on the bench.
The Cougars will have a new look on the field as well. With seven starters graduated, Palmyra will have some different faces associated with the names and numbers on its lineup card.
“This is a totally different situation, me being a new head coach,” said Karavage, who’s been a part of the program for five years. “A lot of things have changed, but there are things that are similar. There was some carry-over from last year. Hopefully we’ll learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.”
Palmyra is coming off a 14-8 season, one in which it went 9-5 in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference and underachieved, despite qualifying for the District Three Class AAA postseason. Lost from that crew are the talents of Colby Conway, Preston Bare, Josh Sollenberger, Sullie Bortner, Mike Fuhrman, Nick Slobozien, Graham Speece and Dom Faiola.
“Last season went decent for them,” said Karavage. “But they thought they were going to do better. They had five college signees, either Division One or Division Two players. They suffered some close losses. Any time you go to districts it’s a successful season, but it could’ve gone better.”
The Cougars’ retooling will revolve around pitching, which is a pretty good place to start. Crafty right-hander Tyler Morder and hard-chucking righty Trey Baker are a formidable one-two punch.
They are also two of Palmyra’s three returning senior starters, the other one being Trent Fitter.
“That’s going to be a strength for sure,” said Karavage. “The pitchers in the off-season were coming to optional workouts, since I took over in September. And we put three, four, five miles-per-hour on some of our guys’ fastballs. They’re ready. They’re going to be our workhorses.
“Pitching is hopefully going to be one of our strengths,” added Karavage. “With the weather, we only had one scrimmage. But realistically it looks like its going to be one of our big strengths. From the mental side, these guys have grown into one unit.”
The remainder of the Cougars’ roster is talented but inexperienced. What will determine Palmyra’s success will be when and how Tyler Rivera, a senior first baseman, Bryce Betz, a senior catcher who’s committed to Lebanon Valley College, Mitchell Sauley, a junior pitcher, Michael Rothermel, a senior catcher, John Binner, a senior utility man, Christian Mitchell, a junior outfielder, Zach Miller, a sophomore shortstop, Brandon Charochak, a freshman second baseman, Colin Gurt, a junior first baseman, Bobby Donta, a sophomore pitcher, Steven Schnoke, a junior outfielder and Anthony Faiola, a junior outfielder, step up.
“I’d say when you look at weaknesses, we don’t have power hitters like Preston Bare and Colby Conway,” said Karavage. “But also, those kids who left were leaders. It’s a totally different regime. That whole role of being seasoned is something that can be better.
“The big goal for me is I’m trying to instill in these kids to be better individuals, better men,” Karavage continued. “I want them to play as a family, pick each other up. I’m a firm believer that if they work together, they’ll play above their abilities. The ability is there. It’s just a matter of making that ability shine.”
The Cougars will open their 2013 spring on Friday, March 22nd at Manheim Central, before taking on Cedar Crest, Saturday, March 23rd at 1 p.m. at Lebanon Valley College’s McGill Field. On Tuesday, March 26th, Palmyra travels to rival Hershey for a date with the Trojans.
“We’re excited for the season,” said Karavage. “We have some really die-hard coaches, and the kids have been doing a lot of work on new drills. I’m excited to see the product we put out on the field.”
New and improved?