There is already a great deal of excitement locally for the 2021 spring high school baseball season.
The 2020-21 WPIAL baseball and girls’ softball section alignments were released on Monday and the new configurations will have great local interest.
Derry Area and Ligonier Valley, a newcomer to the WPIAL, will both be placed in the same baseball section, WPIAL Class 3A, Section 3, while Greater Latrobe is a Class 5A team. The three local schools are in different sections in girls’ softball — Greater Latrobe in WPIAL Class 5A, Section 2, Derry Area in Class 3A, Section 1 and Ligonier Valley in Class 2A, Section 2 — but there is heightened excitement surrounding the baseball season with two local teams in the same section.
“I am personally very excited to have Derry in the same section, as that’s a true natural rivalry that our school really hasn’t had,” Ligonier Valley coach Brett Marabito said.
“We have kids that go to (Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center) together and play summer ball at Latrobe-Derry Area Teener League, so it will be nice to have that rivalry.”
Ligonier Valley is a former District 6 Heritage Conference team. In November, the WPIAL voted unanimously to accept Ligonier Valley as a new member, and the following month, the PIAA voted unanimously to allow Ligonier Valley to leave District 6 and join the WPIAL.
Marabito is anxious to begin the journey.
“There are a lot of unknowns heading into this, especially with no baseball this spring, we really aren’t sure of what to expect or what these schools have coming back for 2021,” Marabito said. “We will have a young group next season, and we’re going to work hard to try and establish ourselves as a perennial contender in the section.”
In 2019, Ligonier Valley reached the quarterfinal round of the District 6 Class 3A playoffs and captured its first Heritage Conference championship in baseball in seven years. The Rams outscored the opposition, 151-41, in their first 17 games, opening with 11 straight wins before their initial loss of the season.
“Aside from Derry, we’re not quite sure what to expect, but we know this isn’t going to be a walk in the park,” Marabito said. “We have to be ready to play our best ball each game.”
Ligonier Valley and Derry Area are together in section play, and the two local teams are also joined by Mount Pleasant Area — another area squad — in addition to Deer Lakes, East Allegheny and Valley.
“I’m glad Ligonier is in our section because Brett Marabito is a great guy and we have a good relationship,” Derry Area coach John Flickinger said. “He’s a good baseball guy, they’re right up the road and we’ll be looking forward to playing them, for sure.”
The feeling is mutual coming from Marabito.
“I’ve gotten to know coach Flickinger well over the past year and he’s built a great program down the road,” Marabito said. “I’m excited to be able to compete against his squad.”
Flickinger said the Trojans have squared off against Ligonier Valley in the past in exhibition and scrimmage action.
“Maybe we can form another friendly rivalry with Ligonier,” Flickinger said. “I’m looking forward to Ligonier playing in our section. Brett has a lot of baseball experience and he’ll have his kids prepared.”
The Trojans went 8-11 overall in 2019, including a 4-8 record in WPIAL Class 4A, Section 1 play, good enough for sixth in the section. Only Mount Pleasant Area remains in the same section with the Trojans from that grouping. Greensburg Salem, Knoch, Highlands and Indiana Area are Class 4A teams, while Yough is in a different Class 3A section.
While Flickinger is excited to have Ligonier Valley and Mount Pleasant Area in the same section, he’s sad to lose other traditional rivals like Yough and Southmoreland.
“We developed a heck of a rivalry with Yough and Southmoreland over the years,” Flickinger said. “I’ll miss playing them, but I think we have good parity in our section and we look forward to a new challenge. I think we have a nice nucleus of kids coming back next year. It’s arguably one of the better on-paper teams we’ve had in a very long time as far as position-by-position goes.”
The Greater Latrobe baseball team dropped from Class 6A to Class 5A in the section realignment. The Wildcats are in a grouping with Franklin Regional, Gateway, Kiski Area, McKeesport Area and Penn-Trafford.
Penn-Trafford is the lone holdover from last season, as Greater Latrobe played in a section against the Warriors, Norwin, Connellsville Area, Hempfield Area and Plum in 2019.
The area baseball teams, in addition to new section foes, will also have to deal with a revamped schedule next season.
The WPIAL also on Monday approved a measure where section opponents will play one another in consecutive days, as opposed to one game early in the season and the second contest several weeks later. The scheduling change was made to prevent teams from using a No. 1 pitcher against the same opponent in different games.
“I’m very much in favor of a two-game series because now, you can’t throw the same guy all the time,” Flickinger said. “It opens up a little more strategy and a competitive opportunity on how you want to handle your pitching staff. I really like it and I think it’s a good thing.”
Greater Latrobe remains a Class 5A girls’ softball team, while Derry Area is still in Class 3A and Ligonier Valley a Class 2A school.
Greater Latrobe is in WPIAL Class 5A, Section 2, along with Albert Gallatin, Connellsville Area, Gateway, Penn-Trafford and Thomas Jefferson. Three of the five teams remain from last year’s section as the Lady Wildcats were in a grouping with Albert Gallatin, Armstrong, Connellsville Area, Franklin Regional, Kiski Area, Laurel Highlands and Penn-Trafford in 2019.
Derry Area is in WPIAL Class 3A, Section 1, along with Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, North Catholic, Shady Side Academy and Valley. Three of the teams in Derry Area’s section are holdovers from last year, as well, as the Lady Trojans were grouped with Burrell, Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, Freeport Area and Valley in 2019.
The Ligonier Valley girls’ softball team is in WPIAL Class 2A, Section 2, along with Apollo-Ridge, Brentwood, Jeannette, Serra Catholic, Seton LaSalle and Steel Valley.
Ligonier Valley went 17-3 and captured the District 6 Heritage Conference in 2019. The Lady Rams defeated Martinsburg Central in the playoffs before advancing to the District 5/6 Class 3A semifinals last season, and falling to Chestnut Ridge.