No. Valley Legion team seeks return to playoffs
Ever since Brad Rauch took over as Northern Valley head coach in the Lehigh Valley Legion Baseball League, the Chargers have been a top-four team at season's end. The Chargers finished with the league's fourth-best record at 11-7 last season before going 1-2 in the playoffs with two one-run losses.
Now entering his fourth season at the helm, Rauch expects much of the same success from this year's Charger squad. And with six of the team's starters in the field from last year returning, Rauch's expectations are not out of the question.
"We have an all-around good team," Rauch said. "I feel confident about the year, and the coaching staff feels confident. It's a good group of kids. A lot of them have been with me before; they know what I expect. They know that I am basically there to win and win championships. That's our goal every year.
"If we can be in the top four going into the playoffs, I would be happy. I would like a home field game in the playoffs."
Four Northwestern Lehigh varsity players (catcher Collin Breidinger, outfielder Taylor Breininger, first baseman Jordan Storm and third baseman/pitcher Josh Williamson) are ready to build off their successful high school season in legion play.
Tyler Dibilio (Northern Lehigh) and Travis Nelmes (Northern Lehigh) join Breininger in the outfield, while second baseman Thomas Quigley (Northern Lehigh) and shortstop Dante Salerno (Marian Catholic) round out a sound lineup for the Chargers.
"Defensively, we're in good shape because all of our outfielders are back from last year," Rauch said. "We have a solid defense. Defense is definitely not one of my concerns."
While the fielders may be experienced, the pitching staff is a different story. The Chargers' top three pitchers from a year ago, Josh Kern (1.71 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 41 innings), Dave Smith (2.58 ERA, 14 strikeouts in 38 innings) and Cody Hallman (2.57 ERA, 19 strikeouts in 30 innings) are no longer with the team.
Williamson, who pitched 16 innings with a 1.31 ERA last season, could be the Chargers' ace this year. Rauch expects him to lead the way for a young staff, and in his first game, Williamson did just that. He pitched seven innings in a 2-1 loss to West Allentown in the season-opener and allowed just one earned run on four hits.
Storm, who pitched for the Tigers during the spring, is one of a number of others who expect to see time on the mound.
"Our pitching staff this year is definitely young," Rauch said. "We don't have the pitching staff that we've had in the past.
"It kind of worries me, but a lot of them did very well during the high school season. So I'm just hoping that they can pick that up."
Smith (.340), Hallman (.295) and Kern (.265) were also three of the team's top four batters last season and their departure leaves important holes to fill in the batter's box. Nelmes, who batted .286 in 2013, will look to have another solid season swinging the bat, but question marks remain in the batting order.
"The one thing that does concern me is we have to produce runs, and that is where we struggled last year," Rauch said. "Our defense, we were holding teams to three or four runs, but the games we won, we weren't scoring many more runs.
"One thing that we do have this year is a lot of speed. We may not have a powerful batting order, as far as guys driving the ball out of the park, but we definitely have speed."
In their home opener, the Chargers shut out Coplay for the 4-0 victory on Sunday afternoon to even their record at 1-1.
The Chargers face Emmaus on Thursday at Emmaus Community Park. Game time is 7 p.m. Results from Tuesday's game against Fullerton were not available at time of press.
"We want to win a championship every year, but we don't talk about it," Rauch said. "It's something that we kind of just put on the back burner. I always tell them to play one inning at a time."