L-L baseball this spring has featured nothing less than an armada of arms.
From Hempfield’s Big Four of Alec Miller, Derek Manning, Wyatt Miller and Jon Peterson to Lancaster Catholic’s Big Three of Dillon Marsh, Bayley Jamanis and Shawn Henry; from Donegal’s Camren Ney and Sam Lazowski to a Warwick staff that this week threw a second straight shutout and has surrendered just six earned runs in its last 44 innings, mound masters have been muting even the biggest bats.
It’s been a season in which seniors and juniors have shared headlines with sophomore sensations and freshman phenoms. Perhaps the most interesting case of a team taking up arms is Penn Manor, the Comets boasting a staff whose rotation can go six deep and is made up entirely of underclassmen.
Longtime Comets coach Jim Zander is no stranger to success or quality pitching. But the veteran boss acknowledges he’s never been part of anything that remotely resembles what’s taking place in Millersville these days.
“Our ‘05 that won a state title had a great pitching staff that was anchored by four seniors,” he said. “I’ve never had this combination of 10th and 11th graders who have done such a good job.
“Coming into the year we had guarded optimism. You never know how they’re going to perform at a higher level. But they’ve met all of our expectations.”
There have been several reasons for the success of the Comet staff —timely hitting and defense; the coaching of Zander and chief assistant Streeter Stuart, a former Division I pitcher at the University of Virginia; strength and conditioning coach Steve O’Neill; winter workouts; weight-lifting; etc.
The combination has led to Jeff Taylor, Grant Gale and Jeremy Miller beginning this past week unbeaten, while Colin Whiteside and Jacob Herr had only one loss each.
Behind the seams — behind the spinning fastballs, curves, sliders and change-ups spotted at times with surgical precision — is catcher Anthony Knight. A league All-Star last season who hit better than .300, Knight has been even more valuable this spring mentoring the young men climbing the hill.
Which L-L baseball team has the best starting pitching?
In a season full of local aces, which high school has the best arms.
“This is my 20th year and we’ve prided ourselves on having some good catchers but he’s been just unbelievable,” Zander said. “He takes charge — he’s one of our captains —and his approach is so even you can’t tell if he’s up or down. And he plays the game hard all the time.”
He also owns one of the most feared throwing arms in the league. Stuart opined that only one base has been legitimately stolen on Knight this season.
“Every other person who has stolen a base,” Stuart said, “is because (the runner) got a huge jump or (Knight) didn’t have a good pitch to handle.”
To his credit, Knight refrains from speaking of his exploits, preferring instead to talk about the development of his pitchers.
“Being a senior I try to be a rock for them,” he said. “I let them know they can throw whatever they want when they want and I’ll be there for them. They’ve shown a lot of confidence and that’s big, especially for how young they are. Just to see that confidence in a game is really helpful to the team.”
And having Knight behind the plate has proven particularly helpful to Penn Manor pitchers.
“Anthony has been holding the new pitching staff together,” said Taylor. “It wouldn’t be going as smoothly without him.
“Whatever the situation is, Anthony’s going to know what to do. He knows what we need to do when we need to do it. It just wouldn’t be the same without him.”
Herr agreed. “He’s a great catcher. I love pitching to him and have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a huge part of this team.”
Taylor, a sophomore southpaw, is 5-1 with a 0.81 ERA. He took his first loss Wednesday, a 2-1 final against Hempfield in which he allowed just earned run.
Most days, however, PM pitchers declare lights out on opposing hitters. Zander offered a brief scouting report on what makes each special.
“For Taylor it’s his stuff,” he said. “For a 10th grader he has a great fastball and good breaking ball. I’d say the same for Herr. He’s a junior and his fastball is in the mid-80s.
“For Grant it’s his demeanor, nothing rattles him. He stays even-keeled. You can’t tell if he’s winning by 10 or losing by 10. And his breaking ball is excellent.
“Jeremy shut out Spring Grove and they’re number one in York-Adams I. Whiteside is just a fierce competitor, that’s the best thing I can say about him. He wants the ball. His fastball isn’t overpowering but it has good movement, it’s lively.”
These are lively times for Penn Manor’s program. The Comets are one of the top teams in the L-L and District Three and their young arms have put them in position to make a pitch for postseason hardware.
“I saw in the preseason that they had potential,” said Knight. “After the first couple of games, I knew it was going to be a fun ride.”