The West Lawn Legion Baseball Team will find it difficult to replace talented pitchers Ryan Ebner and Josh Smith, the two top pitchers in the Berks Legion League last season, out-fielder John Schultz, catcher Marcus Sabolis and Jeff Smith.Ebner played basketball and baseball at The Hill School this year to prepare himself for the rigors of college life at Bucknell while Josh Smith and John Schultz played baseball at Pitt. Sabolis attends Cornell, but does not play on its baseball team. And Jeff Smith plans on transferring to Alvernia in September.
Last year, West Lawn compiled a 37-11 record. The Owls were Berks County Legion Champions and PA Region II Runners-Up. They also hosted the Mid-Atlantic National Regional at Owls Field. The winner of this tournament (Boyertown) qualified for the American Legion World Series.
At the moment, the Owls are 5-2 in the league and 8-5 overall. They have league wins over Twin Valley, Exeter, Gregg Post, Oley and Hamburg and have lost to Boyertown and Shillington.
On June 14, West Lawn beat Oley, 15-10. The Lynx scored six runs in the seventh and eighth innings to make it appear closer than it was.
The other night against Boyertown, the Owls had a difficult time keeping the league's perennial power off the scoreboard.
"The difference maker in the Boyertown game (an 11-1 loss) was their pitcher Shayne Houck," West Lawn coach Tony Matz III said. "He dominated our hitters and that gave us very few opportunities to do anything from the offensive side of things." Houck threw seven innings, fanned nine and walked only one without giving up a run. The Owls scored their lone run in the eighth when their batter was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Despite this loss, West Lawn received a decent start from pitcher Evan Gombos for the first five innings. Nevertheless, the Owls will be searching for a more complete performance when they face the Bears twice more on June 24 on the road and on July 10 at home.
"Obviously, we'll need to do a much better job next time because we play nine inning games, and we'll have to have better at bats when on offense," coach Matz said. However, in a non-league game against Norchester, the 2007 PA State Runners-up, the Owls displayed the kind of potential they have by defeating the Bulldogs, 4-3.
"We had great pitching, defense and a solid all-around game," Matz said. Key returning players for West Lawn include high school graduating seniors Greg Strupp, Isaac Wenrich and Mike Latona as well as juniors Evan Gombos, Garrett Gittler and Paul Rosa. Sophomores Chris Gehris and Tim Ravel also contributed to last year's legion team Newcomers are juniors (seniors-to-be) Jimmy Davis, Dave Loose, Kevin O'Neill, Kyle Pych, Andrew Spotts, Chad Swavely and Mike Westley. Sophomore Conner Gobright and freshmen Jonah Pulford and Jordan Rosa round out the newcomers and the roster.
The batting order is as follows: SS Ravel, 2B Gehris, P Wenrich, 3B Gombos, RF Latona, LF Strupp, CF Rosa, C Gittler and 1B Pych. This was Monday's starting lineup against the Exeter Blue Jays.
When Matz needs to summon a player off the bench, he will currently use Davis, Westley or Gobright.
"Isaac in particular is the vocal leader of the team, and Greg (Strupp) is the more reserved (grounded) leader," Matz said.
With this kind of experience and talent, the Owls will continue to have fun and success as they improve over the course of the season to try to advance out of Berks for the fifth straight year.