Baseball talent sparkled on prep diamonds

WHEELING – A week ago we showcased many of the best prep baseball teams in the Ohio Valley.

Now the spotlight shines on the premier diamond players as submitted by our readers. Just as with the teams, unfortunately some prep standouts may fall through the cracks while others have been chronicled as members of the best teams.

The best-player nominations dwarfed those in the team category. With that said, we could not go into much detail on the respective players.

Here we go, school by school, in no specific order.

BROOKE: The Bruins’ 1973 state title team featured two stalwarts in Joe Pettini and Mark Schwertfeger. Pettini went on to star at Mercer before being drafted by the Montreal Expos. He was traded to San Francisco, where he played four years. Schwertfeger was simply dominant on the mound. Larry Gryskevich, a 1984 grad, set a state record as a senior with 14 homers. He was drafted by the Pirates after high school while also receiving a D-I scholarship to Oral Roberts. Bill Billick was another Bruin nominated from they 1980s.

PADEN CITY: Todd Neff was a former state player of year who went on to play at WVU.

BRIDGEPORT: The Bulldogs have some no-brainers with the Niekro Brothers. Phil and Joe own the record for most Major League Baseball pitching wins by a set of brothers. The Dogs’ diamond talent doesn’t stop there as John Blatnik and Stan Goletz were great players. Gary Knight Sr., Jim Tomolonis, David Stazenski and Dave Mroczkowski were four more Bridgeport all-staters.

ST. JOHN CENTRAL – The Fighting Irish baseball luminaries start with Joe Yazombek. The talented catcher starred at Marietta College where he was named MVP in the Division III College World Series. Other Green diamond gems included Pat Staley, Mike Kolvek, Bob Voytecek, Tim Misencik, Billy Timko, basketball star Dick Reasbeck, Eric Petho and Will Souillard.

MEADOWBROOK: Troy Aleshire.

MINGO: OVAC Hall of Famer Ron Sismondo pitched in College World Series for Arizona before embarking on a pro career.

SHENANDOAH: Jed Stephen starred for Ohio State and is an OVAC Hall of Famer.

WOODSFIELD: “Sad” Sam Jones scripted a sparkling Major League Baseball career, pitching for seven teams, starting with the Indians. He recorded more than 100 mound wins while leading the National League in wins on two occasions and strikeouts three times. While with the Cubs, he spun a no-hitter against the Pirates in 1955.

MARTINS FERRY: Doug Swearingen and Keith Vrotsos were lone Purple Riders brought to the table. Swearingen, a talented southpaw, enjoyed a stellar career on the Ohio State mound before pitching professionally. Vrotsos, meanwhile, went on to star at Ohio University. Both are OVAC Hall of Famers.

SKYVUE: Another no-brainer. Mitch Hannahs is a Golden Hawks’ legend who went onto star at Indiana State where he now serves as head coach. Hannahs is an OVAC and Indiana State Hall of Famer.

EAST LIVERPOOL – Bernie Allen tops all Potter players. He enjoyed a successful 12-year major league career, mainly with the Senators and Twins.

BUCKEYE TRAIL – Chris Starr starred on the mound for the Warriors, landing him a scholarship to the University of Michigan. He is an OVAC Hall of Famer.

RIVER: Three Pilots were nominated, highlighted by the Rose brothers. Kyle hit .500 as a senior before heading off to Mercer. Younger brother, Casey, hit at a .450 clip as a senior. Marty Ramsay hit .460 as a senior.

SHADYSIDE – The Orange has cranked a bevy of standout baseball players. Donnie Bobek (1969), Denny Fleming (1972), Pat Miller (1979), Rome Ripoly (1985) and Matt Apicella (1994) all were selected to play in the all-Ohio Game. Mike Meintel (2007) was a first-team all-stater and D-I recruit at Wright State. Don Fleming also was nominated. He is better known as being a star defensive back for the Florida Gators and Cleveland Browns. Eli Kaluger was a nominee from the 1940s while second base star Eddie Garczyk (1985) also drew support.

MADONNA – Max Nogay was the lone Blue Don nominated. He enjoyed a fine career at WVU.

MAGNOLIA – The Blue Eagles boast a rich baseball tradition under the tutelage of legendary coach Dave Cisar. Two of his players were nominated. His son, Mark, starred at Charleston Southern University where he was named Big South Player of the Year. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. His career was derailed by an injury. Justin Fox is the other Magnolia honoree. He starred at WVU before playing professionally.

WHEELING CENTRAL – The Maroon Knights had three special players nominated. When you think Central baseball, the name Bo McConnaughy has to top the list. He also starred at West Liberty and was a Baltimore Orioles’ farmhand before scripting a success-filled career guiding the Hilltoppers. Steve Wojcik was the captain of the All-Valley team in 1969. He went on to an outstanding career at West Liberty before playing in the Mets organization. JoJo Blaha was a multi-sport standout who went on to a record-setting career at Valdosta State. All three are OVAC Hall of Famers.

EDISON SOUTH – Jamie Taylor played at Jefferson Union his first three years prior to consolidation. The former Ohio State standout is an OVAC Hall of Famer. Brock Barnhouse was another Jefferson Union nominee.

BENWOOD UNION – The school is no longer in existence but Pete Gongola cannot be overlooked after a long pro career and enshrinement into the OVAC Hall of Fame.

WEIR: Mike Tomasovich, Ted Tomasovich and Jason Nixon got the Red Rider nods.

BISHOP DONAHUE: Mike Hummell was a Bishop stud as was Mark Gordon.

BUCKEYE LOCAL: Warren Consolidated and Buckeye South are two schools that have morphed into Buckeye Local each yielding a diamond great. Legendary Bill Mazeroski starred for the Blue Ramblers while Stan Boroski was a Rebel great. Both are OVAC Hall of Famers.

BELLAIRE – The Big Reds never had a baseball program until 1969. The school instituted the sport to accommodate phenom Ed Burgy for his sophomore season. Burgy, Dirk Pica, who played at Ohio State, Scot Maffe and Bill Bonar, a Pittsburgh Pirate and Baltimore Colt signee back in the 1950s, all earn spots. Burgy and Maffe are OVAC Hall of Famers.

JOHN MARSHALL: The Monarchs of Bob Montgomery have a sparkling diamond resume. Chris Jones, an OVAC Hall of Famer, Jeff Gossett, Mike Myers, Todd Hayes, Dave Hobbs, Jared Rine, Mike Prettyman and Mike Berlin were either all-staters, pro players or both.

OAK GLEN: Only one player was nominated but he is a tremendous one: Chris Enochs. The OVAC Hall of Famer starred at WVU before pitching professionally.

TORONTO: The Red Knights of Brian Perkins have been impressively cranking out D-I recruits: Nate Karaffa and Nolan Clegg at Ohio State while Blaze Glenn is at Youngstown State. But not to be overlooked is Tom (Chip) Coulter whose pro career included some major league duty.

WINTERSVILLE: Joe Binkiewicz and Rick Grimm got the nods from Warrior Nation.

STEUBENVILLE CATHOLIC CENTRAL: Mike Gulan, an OVAC Hall of Famer and former major leaguer, tops the Crusader list.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE: Lefty Hall and Tom Sliva have mentored many a gifted Red Devil. When you talk St. C. baseball, however, the conversation starts with Gene Cattane. Other Red Devil stalwarts included Scott Barnhouse, Jim Baugh Sr., Jim Baugh Jr., Joe Slavik, Dave Cattane, Mike Egri, Dustin Hynes and Joe Dudek.

HARRISON CENTRAL: Ohio Stater Trent Luyster is the lone Huskie while Don Bethel gets mention from his Cadiz High exploits, a part of the Harrison Central consolidation.

WHEELING PARK: The Park came into existence in 1976 and has produced its share of diamond dandies. The first was Jim Lemasters. The 1983 grad became a first-team NAIA All-American in 1986 after starring for West Liberty and being named the WVIAC Pitcher-of-the Year. He was a 10th round pick of the Atlanta Braves and advanced to the Class AAA level. Mike McLeod, regarded by many as the finest athlete in Park annals, and Michael Grove, a rising mound star in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, also were nominated frequently. Rick Mount was the lone other Patriot nominated.

STEUBENVILLE – The Big Red program has spawned many a great player. OVAC Hall of Famer and former major leaguer Paul Hoover steps to the front of a lengthy line of nominees including Matt Morrison, Steve Nodianos, Dave Murray, Lee Bainbridge, Jeremy Banks, Justin Banks, Jason Vein and Anthony Reda.

LINSLY – The Cadets feature one of the premier programs in the Ohio Valley, one that has produced many a great tremendous player. Heath Haynes, Ron Stevens, Kevin Tatar, Mike Coss and Mark Seaver all starred locally and enjoyed pro careers. Willie Clay was dynamite on the diamond and enjoyed a fine NFL career.

All the aforementioned players were submitted by the public. Now it is time to put my two cents worth in.

I cannot reflect back on the 1940s, ’50 or ’60s. But I have witnessed much baseball thereafter.

When it comes to the best prep baseball player I ever witnessed it is undoubtedly Ed Burgy of Bellaire. Maybe the greatest tribute to his talent was that the Big Reds started the program his sophomore year to utilize his multi-faceted skills. The OVAC Hall of Famer is best known for his mind-boggling pitching feats. The three-year All-Valley first-team honoree completed his prep career with a 20-5 record, still the most wins ever by a Big Reds’ pitcher.

He owns the career strikeout mark with 326 (in just 175 innings) and the single-season strikeout standard of 128. While possessing nearly-unhittable heat, he also owned great control. He walked just 31 batters in his career and went eight straight games without issuing a base on balls. He carved out state records with a minuscule 0.13 ERA for a season and an 0.63 ERA for a career. His third OHSAA record is 16 shutouts. Burgy also set an Ohio Valley mark with 23 strikeouts in a 10-inning no-hitter versus River. Burgy was a sixth-round draft choice of the New York Mets and spent three years in the Mets’ farm system, first in Virginia followed by a stop in Pompano (Fla.) and Memphis. He had 13 wins in one season and fanned 20 in one game. He opted to end his baseball ascent at age 20.

Burgy flashed his immense talent at an early age. He pitched the Bellaire Little League All-Stars to within one game of the LL World Series in Williamsport, Pa. The Bellaire squad advanced to the final regional qualifier in Bedford, Mass. Burgy won both of his mound starts in Massachusetts. The team was unable pocket the third World Series-qualifying win.

Right behind Burgy in my book is Gene Cattane. The St. C. dandy authored an impressive four-year career on the diamond as a shortstop and pitcher. Cattane’s career numbers included a batting average of .431 with 127 runs scored, 29 home runs, 13 triples and 25 doubles. He was a four-time all-Valley selection and chosen to participate in the Ohio All-Star Series in Columbus, equivalent to gaining all-state honors at that time.

As a senior, Cattane helped the Red Devils to the OVAC Class AAA championship and a 23-9 overall record. He batted .478 with valley-leading totals of 54 hits, 10 home runs, 38 RBI and 35 runs scored. On the mound, he was 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA in 52.2 innings, striking out 71. Cattane’s junior numbers included a .455 average (fifth in the OVAC) with valley bests in home runs (8) and RBI (36) along with 40 hits, five doubles, three triples, and 26 runs scored. As a sophomore, he hit .349 with valley highs in home runs (9) and RBI (46) along with 38 hits, four doubles, three triples and 32 runs scored. His freshman totals included a .449 average (fourth in the OVAC) and valley-leading marks in hits (40) and runs scored (34) along with 10 doubles, three triples, two home runs and 25 RBI.

In addition to his high school exploits, Cattane was also a standout American Legion player. He was named Ohio American Legion Player of the Year in 1976 after leading Maynard Post 666 to a state runner-up finish with a 28-7 record, batting .350 for the season including .433 in seven tournament games. He also played for more than 10 years with Maynard of the Ohio Valley Baseball League and was a perennial all-star.


¯ SPEAKING OF baseball, it was good to see Tom Sliva inducted into the Eastern District Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. Sliva has scripted stellar careers guiding both the St. John Central and St. Clairsville diamond programs.

¯ THE ANNUAL “The Dam Man’s Crew” golf scramble, held in memory of Rick Brinker and scheduled for June 20 at Crispin Golf Course, has been canceled. The health and safety of all involved were the driving factors of the committee’s decision. The committee and Brinker family sincerely appreciate all the support from the community and the participants. The committee is working on choosing a date for next year’s scramble.

¯ THE RESUMPTION of professional sports received a solid jump start last Sunday with the return of live NASCAR racing and the golf’s TaylorMade Diving Relief exhibition, climaxed by the final two episodes of “The Last Dance.” It almost felt like a normal spring Sunday. The NASCAR TV ratings reached a three-year high.

¯ SPEAKING of the coronavirus pandemic and sports, when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine allowed Little Leagues to play this summer with no limits on the number of individuals allowed at the field, it gave life to staging prep basketball in July and starting high school football practice in August.


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