Dallastown baseball coach Greg Kinneman had a reason to be unsure about his 2017 pitching staff.
Back in March, it was the one unknown he had about his team heading into the season. After graduating more than 80 percent of his innings pitched from 2016, he had every right to be concerned.
In the grand scheme of things, three months isn’t a long time. But, it’s been plenty of time for Kinneman to see his group of pitchers grow up and put any preseason worries to rest.
When the Wildcats were in the midst of finishing off their 11-1 thrashing of top-seeded Governor Mifflin on Thursday night to capture the District 3 6-A title, the program’s first ever district championship, every aspect of the team’s dominance was on display.
The depth of offense from spots one through nine in the order was apparent, with every player reaching base at least once; eight of which scored at least a run. The defense was stout, turning three inning-ending double plays, and starting pitcher Alex Weakland was in control allowing just three hits and an unearned run over the six innings it took him to finish out the complete-game, mercy-rule victory.
Top-notch pitching: There are many reasons for Dallastown's success this season; a team that has won 17 consecutive games to run its record to 20-4 heading into the state tournament. But, for the sake of this column, focus is placed on Weakland and the rest of the Wildcats' pitching staff, which might just be the closest thing to an actual “staff” heading into states.
Weakland was the guy to get the call in the district championship game, but Kinneman said afterwards that he would’ve been confident giving the ball to senior Jake Gates. The other member of the starting rotation, Nick Parker, was ineligible to pitch after spinning a complete-game, three-hitter in the semifinals two nights earlier. And just in case Weakland ran into any trouble against the Mustangs on Thursday night, Kinneman would’ve had no problem turning to shutdown reliever Michael Carr.
It’s an embarrassment of riches at the disposal of Kinneman, one of which that Dallastown is greatly reaping the benefits.
“It’s a pleasure,” senior catcher Bryant Holtzapple said about being the battery mate to the Wildcats’ pitchers. “They trust me. I trust them. We have a good game plan going into all the games. We just go out and execute and it’s just an honor to catch all these guys.”
Depth not an issue: There have always been rules in place by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to limit the use of high school pitchers. However, prior to this season, the PIAA moved to pitch count regulations, putting not only limits on how much a pitcher can throw in a week (200 pitches), but also in a single game (100 pitches). That moved away from an innings guideline that could see kids throw upwards of 120-140 pitches in a game simply because coaches didn’t have the pitching depth to remove a pitcher if a game was close or went into extra innings.
The new rules were sure to test the depth of pitching staffs even more and the lack of quality arms after the top one or two on any team have cost clubs time and time again this season.
Except the Wildcats.
After Parker, who is verbally committed to reigning national champion Coastal Carolina, recovered and returned from a broken elbow suffered before the season began, he added to the dominance of Weakland and Gates. Together, the trio have made things easy on Kinneman when it comes to managing pitchers and are a big reason why Dallastown has already won the York-Adams League and District 3 6-A titles. No matter which one toes the rubber, the Wildcats feel as though they have the better pitcher.
“Confidence is pretty high,” Gates said. “All of that is, not just us being able to go out there and throw strikes, but being able to throw strikes because of the defense we have behind us. The confidence really starts with the defense we have behind us, more than anything.”
Each starter has been tasked with coming up huge in big games. It was Gates who was called upon to start the Y-A League tournament semifinal game against York Catholic. Since then, he’s given way to Weakland and Parker. Weakland started two of the three district tournament games, including the championship. In between, Parker needed just 80 pitches to get through the district semifinals against Penn Manor, allowing just three hits, no runs and striking out eight. And if a starter can’t get through the entire game, Kinneman has called on Carr to close out games, a spot that he thrives in while most others wilt.
Competitive drive: Most of the pitching success comes from the sheer talent of the players. But, there’s also some competitive drive among the group that pushes everyone to greater heights.
“We’re always telling each other what’s working,” Weakland said. “We go down and watch each other’s bullpens before a game and we try to see what’s working.”
During the final month of the regular season and once the playoffs begin, schedules can get condensed. That’s when coaches have to go to great lengths to manage pitch counts for their starters and then search for other reliable arms.
With a tight window coming up that could see the Wildcats potentially play four games in 12 days if they make it to the state championship game June 16, this is the time of year that tests teams. With weather always an uncertainty around these parts, it wouldn’t be surprising if Dallastown had a game get postponed, leading to a situation where it had to play two games in three days. That would hardly be a problem. Three games in three days wouldn’t pose a concern with this staff.
The Wildcats are a team of many strengths.
But, their greatest one might be a pitching staff built for deep playoff runs and could be what separates them into the category of state contenders, rather than pretenders.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org