The PIAA floated a proposal for next year’s baseball season schedule that drew a strong reaction from local coaches.
The motion was to increase a team’s maximum number of regular-season games from 20 to 24. That proposal was recently denied at the latest PIAA Board of Directors Meeting. That’s not to say the proposal won’t be brought up again in the future.
The rule would’ve likely had little effect on the smaller schools in Greene County had it been approved but one coach had a counter-proposal.
“I want the kids to play as many games as possible,” Mapletown coach Dom DeCarlo said. “However, when you have a pitch-count rule that limits you to a max of 101 and you have a single-A school and they’re worried about arm injuries, I don’t understand the idea of adding more games.
“Now if they did two things, I would be totally fine with it. One of my best friends who went to Bethany with me coached in the OVAC (Ohio Valley Athletic Conference) and they do a 125-pitch max for a game. If they did something like that or maybe lengthen the season, maybe instead of ending it the first week in May, end it maybe the second week of May, or maybe start a little earlier, I would be fine with that.”
Mapletown played 15 regular-season games last year. Playoff teams Carmichaels (17), Waynesburg Central (16), Jefferson-Morgan (16) and West Greene (18) played slightly more but none hit the 20 mark.
Waynesburg Central coach Jamie Moore would’ve been for playing more games.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Moore said. “Give kids more opportunities to compete. I know it can be tough to get games in in western Pa. but more games could also benefit teams who go south for training.
“We would like to do that next year but started planning too late. Our schedule has already been filled with 20 games. With added games, a trip south in 2020 might still be possible for us.”
Carmichaels coach Dickie Krause feels those trips south that many teams make early in the spring were the reason for the proposal.
“The positive side of this is it would present the opportunity to play more baseball, which I think is a good thing,” Krause said. “But it’s very misleading. We had three of our 20 scheduled games cancelled and they never got made up because it’s hard to get them in during your section schedule.
“What the coaches are talking about are trips down to Florida where teams go down there and play four-to-six games then they come back up here and if they get a favorable weather pattern you could play your whole 20-game schedule plus the four down south.
“My concern would be with this is there seems to be a divide forming in the WPIAL and the PIAA with what I call the program haves and the program have-nots. What I mean by that are programs that have a lot of resources and programs that have hardly any resources. You have teams that play on impeccable fields, turf fields, that can easily get their 20 in, and they’ll be able to play 24 if you change this, so the competitive advantage with those such teams will be greater.
“The schools that don’t have those kind of assets are the kids that almost never go south. Like a Carmichaels, we’ve had one Florida trip in roughly the last five years. You have (school) board limitations, you have financial limitations based on budgets. So what I fear would happen is the teams that have the field facilities and the good resources, they would be the ones who could play 24 games.
“We would schedule 24 but it’d be hard for us to play them because our field won’t hold up and you can’t make up a ton of (non-section) games during your section season or you’re just going to run yourself thin.”
Veteran J-M coach John Curtis agrees with Krause.
“It wouldn’t affect us a whole lot,” Curtis said of possibly scheduling 24 games. “We played 17 games this past year. We played 13 the previous year, 2018. In single-A, with the amount of pitchers we have on our roster combined with the pitch count, the possibility of added games may not do us as much good as the bigger schools.
“The way the weather is and the time frame, 24 games would be tough for us to get in. Next year will be my 37th year and I can’t remember the last time we played 20 games.”
An abundance in pitching is always crucial to success in baseball. DeCarlo mentioned Curtis’s J-M section championship team from two years ago that reached the WPIAL semifinals.
“John had Gage Clark and some other guys and was able to have a staff and that’s important in single-A,” DeCarlo said. “We didn’t have that this season but we’re going to be OK next year with pitchers because we’re gaining about four or five from the junior high team.”
DeCarlo concurred with Curtis and Krause that it doesn’t matter how many total games you play when weather becomes involved and the schedule gets condensed.
“The problem is when you’re trying to jam four games into a week and you’re a single-A program,” he said. “We’re not like a 3-A school or a 4-A school that has a junior varsity team, a ninth-grade team, and all that. We have one team team.”
As is often the case in Class A, injuries can be devastating and they hit the Maples particularly hard this past season.
“Our No. 1 (pitcher) the year before, Brian Bogden, graduated and he was an innings eater,” DeCarlo said. “I threw him every five days because I knew I could. We lost Dylan Rush, we lost a whole bunch of other guys.
“Going into this baseball season, my No. 2 starter (Ethan Carter) went down with an ACL in basketball so I lost him, and he pitched 60-some innings the year before. He was a long stater for us. He would go 100 pitches easy and never really complain about his arm. He was always the guy I knew after five days that I could go to.
“Lance Stevenson, my shortstop and one of my all-county guys, he went down with a hip injury and a knee injury. He was my No. 1 pitcher. No. 3 was a freshman, Clay Menear, and he was a short reliever.
“So I actually had to make three or four guys who never pitched not only a varsity inning but an inning period before this year, and turn them into a pitcher in three weeks. That’s a very difficult thing to do. Pitchers don’t just grow on trees. I think we finished the season with six or seven pitchers but only about three of them had ever pitched a game before this season.”
A lack of arms affects how many games teams can actually play.
“Then you run into issues where, with us, some of our better games that we could play would be non-section, such as teams like Hundred or Clay-Battelle,” DeCarlo said. “I want to get those games in but then again you also want to win the section games because they’re important. It’s really a Catch-22.
“For us, we actually had a lot of those non-section games cancelled because of our pitch-count issues. We were supposed to play Waynesburg, Beth-Center, Carmichaels, Hundred twice, and we looked at our A.D. and told them this is going to cause arm injuries for my guys. I had to go through issues where I almost had to get Tommy John surgery and I don’t ever want to put a player through that. I’m always for player safety first.”
An extended pitch-count rule would allow DeCarlo to use his more experienced, endurance pitchers longer in games and put less wear and tear on the less-experienced hurlers he was forced to rely on.
“When you’re trying to make up four games in five days, it’s a difficult aspect,” DeCarlo said. “I played for Skooter Roebuck at Brownsville. I always wanted to play as many games as I possibly could, and then we would play Legion right after that. I love the idea of playing more games.
“But I do believe if they extended the pitch count to 125 like they do in the OVAC or made the season a week longer at the beginning, a week longer at the end, I would be fine with adding a few more games to our schedule.
“But having 24 games and only have a couple pitchers is pretty difficult. I don’t think the WPIAL and PIAA considers single-A schools when they make a proposal like this.
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter to us because I think we would talk to our A.D., talk to Linda (Messich) and tell them, listen, don’t go past 20.”