Perhaps Truman baseball this year can best be described as a work in progress.
Undoubtedly, there are pieces and contributors that can make a significant impact. The question of whether the rest of the team can provide enough balance to take the pressure off the most-relied upon Tigers remains to be seen.
So far, there have been flashes, including an average of six runs in the Tigers first four games of the season. What there haven't been to this point are as many results as desired. Truman is in the midst of a 1-6 start and has given away several winnable games in the process.
"We're a good team. We have a lot of talent,' junior shortstop Matt Helbling said. "We should have won most of our games.'
Truman has been in position to do so, as three of their early contests were decided by two runs or less. Perhaps the most painful setback was to Upper Merion, in which the Tigers held a 5-0 advantage going into the late innings before a late Viking rally earned the opponent a 7-5 victory.
Truman head coach Jeff Vitale credited the Vikings for their efforts, but also believed his squad was the better team and should not have finished on the wrong side of that game. However, the veteran coach also thinks he is in need of more team leaders both in the dugout and on the field. Lacking that, partially due to a fairly inexperienced roster, but also, he believes, because of an overall lower commitment to baseball than in previous years by high school-aged teenagers, has affected the team.
"If we're going to win, it's a team effort,' thought Vitale.
Admittedly, he believes many of the teams his Tigers will face this year, particularly in the Suburban One League (SOL) National Conference, will be more talented. Even so, he wants Truman to be more engaged in the games and practices, which he feels could go a long way in improving as the spring progresses.
"We have to make up for that [having less overall talent than some other teams] with grit,' he said.
Several players, however, have been showing promise, including Helbling. After three years on varsity, this is his first season as a full-time starter. He is batting in the leadoff spot and has produced, though the Tigers' record has yet to indicate such.
"It's just frustrating looking up at the scoreboard and losing by one or two runs,' he said. "We need to work on communication, on the field and on the bench, and being able to speak up.'
Behind Helbling in the lineup has been sophomore Matt Olsen, who Vitale praised for being another early contributor. He is the starter in center field, and when combined with junior second baseman Chris Mangold and clean-up hitter Zach Demeglio, the Tigers have a solid enough core on defense. Demeglio, a senior, is starting at first base, while classmate Joey Schiotis is in left field and Tim Hild in right.
"(It) remains to be seen. I really don't see us as an offensive power by any means,' Vitale said. "Situational hitting will be the key.'
Truman put up good numbers to open the season, including 11 runs in a shootout loss to Holy Ghost Prep March 24. In two other setbacks, namely to Central Bucks South and Upper Moreland, they delivered three runs apiece. Things didn't go quite as well in the SOL National opener at Neshaminy April 1, when Cole Creighton shut down the Truman offense to the tune of four innings without surrendering a hit. He, along with Bill Ritchie and Todd McDonald, torched the Tigers pitching staff for three RBI apiece, and by the end of the fifth inning, the game was called due to the mercy rule.
Up next were the Council Rock schools, beginning with South April 3. There, Truman finally broke through, winning a 1-0 duel in eight innings and holding the Golden Hawks to just two hits in the process to earn their first victory.
"We've really got to step it up if we want to compete in the SOL,' Olsen said. "We definitely have the talent. We just have to come together as a team and a family.'
The Tigers will also need a trio of left-handers to come through on the mound. Hild, a senior, is currently slated as the top pitcher on the staff and bats out of the sixth hole. Behind him in the rotation is Matt Walczak, while fellow junior Aaron Wolf will be looked to primarily as a reliever. The concerns are that few other arms have emerged to provide depth, and behind the plate, junior fifth-hole hitter and normal starting catcher Evan Miller is nursing an arm injury. Sophomore Romeo Sturkey will be relied on to fill that role if Miller is unable to play.
Others will also have to emerge to provide a strong bench and back up the starters. Leading the way in that department is sophomore utility man Mark Lopez, while seniors Kyle Harmon, Mark Nusser and Kavon Hunter may also see time.
"We need somebody to really step up and say something when we're down,' Helbling said. "If we're going to be good, we've got to play as a team.'
UPDATE: Truman lost a pair of league matches April 10 and 11 to Abington and Pennsbury to fall to 1-7 overall, 1-3 in the SOL National Conference.