HUGHESTOWN — Pittston Area’s baseball team is in unchartered territory. The Patriots have a roster of 27 players.
“I couldn’t cut any of them,” coach Paul Zaffuto said. “They were all out there and they are all getting bigger and stronger.”
The Patriots, after struggling through last season’s Wyoming Valley Conference schedule, showed glimpses of promise with nearly a pair of upset wins in the District 2 championships. The Patriots featured seven sophomores last season. This season, those juniors will take the reigns, along with a core of seniors, to lead a now-veteran Pittston Area squad.
Pittston Area finished last season 4-9 in the WVC. The Patriots went on to upset Crestwood in the first round of the district playoffs. A loss to Abington Heights in the quarterfinals ended the season.
“Our junior class in here right now is incredible,” said Zaffuto, who is in his 17th year at the helm. “It’s amazing how dedicated they are to the program. The other kids see it.”
Returning to the diamond for the Patriots is junior shortstop Kyle O’Fier. O’Fier came onto the scene last season and developed into one of the finest shortstops in the WVC, Zaffuto said. He’ll be at the top of the lineup, setting the table for the rest of the Pittston Area lineup.
“He put on some speed and some major size this offseason,” Zaffuto said. “His arm strength is there. I think he’s probably one of the best players in the league.”
The Patriots will rely on a trio of pitchers this season, led by junior Tyler Jackson and Joe DeLucca. Jackson, Zaffuto said, doesn’t have the power of some of the other pitchers in the league, but he uses his location to his advantage.
Jackson throws around 80 miles per hour.
“Tyler hits his spots,” Zaffuto said. “He doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he’ll be good for us.”
Along with Jackson, the Patriots will see DeLucca as the second option with sophomore Alex McAndrew also seeing some time. Zaffuto said he would like to keep DeLucca off the mound because of his presence in center field.
Steven Shamnoski will do most of the catching for Pittston Area. The junior does have some competition at the position, but Zaffuto said he’ll get the nod to start the season.
O’Fier at shortstop, junior CJ Pisack at first and senior Kyle Turonis at third are locked in the starting lineup, according to Zaffuto. At second, there’s some competition. Junior Gavin Malampy and sophomore Kevin Krawczyk will be battling for time there, while Krawczyk could move to third as well.
DeLucca will be the leader in the outfield with Jeff Donnora taking over in left field. Donnora came off the bench for Pittston Area last season, but put in a great offseason, Zaffuto said.
“He really showed me something this offseason,” Zaffuto said. “He’s been our best bat so far and running the bases better than anyone.”
In right field, the Patriots have a lot of different options that will be settled in the coming weeks.
One of the reasons Zaffuto is excited about all 27 players on his roster this season is the work the team did in the offseason. Last year was strength and conditioning coach Genaro Zangardi’s first season working with Pittston Area. The long-time area legion baseball coach has given the Patriots a leg up.
Zaffuto referenced last year’s district quarterfinal loss to Abington Heights when speaking of Zangardi. The Patriots had runners on second and third looking to tie the game. Pittston Area’s Gavin Malampy just missed a three-run home run that could have changed the outcome.
“We came so close to beating Abington Heights,” Zaffuto said. “A little more strength would have helped us do that. We’re never going to have that excuse again.”
Pittston Area travels to Hanover Area on April 2 to open the WVC season.
On Friday, April 1, the Pittston Area Baseball Booster Club will have a fun-filled night of food, drinks, and basket raffles from 6 to 9 p.m at The Red Mill on 340 S. Main St. to benefit the booster club and Miles For Michael. Call 570-654-5505 for more information.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick