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Local athletes play in collegiate baseball league

LA PLUME — The nerves were ever present as Logan Ott tried to find a rhythm in his first couple pitches. He hadn’t been on a mound pitching to batters since early March, and here was the recent Montoursville graduate as the Opening Day starter in an upstart collegiate summer baseball league facing Virginia Tech’s starting shortstop.

With one pitch, though, everything settled down. Ott’s 3-1 fastball and Fritz Genther’s ensuing swing produced that unmistakable sound of a wooden baseball bat snapping along the handle. Ott’s second baseman handled the play flawlessly and the southpaw was on his way.

Ott threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings for the Orange team in the first game of the Baseball U PA Summer Collegiate League on Tuesday at Keystone College. He produced two strikeouts on a day where all pitchers were limited to no more than 40 pitches. Loyalsock graduate Dane Armson later fired a scoreless inning, as did St. John Neumann graduate and Misericordia freshman Jaiden Cioffi.

In all, seven local products are playing in the league’s first season. They were selected in a league-wide draft a couple weeks ago. It just so happened Armson, Ott and Cioffi found themselves all on the team led by University of Scranton coach Mike Bartoletti.

Those three are joined on the Orange team by Lock Haven players Noah Cabassa and Gabe Stirr. Mansfield University’s Lorenzo Febbo and Lock Haven’s Jake Mastillo play on the Black team. Jersey Shore graduate Nate Ewing is playing for Steel, as is Lock Haven’s Blaise Zeiders. Recent Montoursville graduate Jaxon Dalena is playing for Vegas along with St. John Neumann graduate Brandon Lohner. And Lock Haven’s Aedan Walter is playing for White.

The league was created after all of the traditional summer collegiate baseball leagues canceled their seasons because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Baseball U PA league runs through Aug. 9 and plays nine-inning games on Tuesday nights and seven-inning doubleheaders on Saturdays throughout the season.

“It’s nice to have a place to come play ball,” Cioffi said after throwing a scoreless seventh inning with a pair of strikeouts. “After being cooped up in the house for a couple months, this is really nice, and it’s going to help a lot of players.”

The league has implemented precautions to deal with the coronavirus concerns, including requiring players to wear masks while in the dugout. During pregame lineup introductions Tuesday night, players spaced six feet apart as the starting lineups stood on the foul lines.

But other than that, it was just a night of baseball and a night of normalcy. Ott hadn’t pitched since a preseason scrimmage with Montoursville against South Williamsport in March. During quarantine he didn’t spend much time throwing bullpens, instead opting to spend time in the weight room with his older brother Cameron.

It allowed the University of Maryland signee to sit 85-87 mph with his fastball Tuesday night and touch as high as 89. Cioffi picked up one of his two strikeouts with a fastball up in the zone at 85. Armson, who is headed to the University of Richmond in the fall, was one of few pitchers used in the game to touch 90 mph with his fastball.

Armson earned the pitching win when Orange scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to eventually take a 7-3 win over Black. The three area products combined for 4 1/3 shutout innings Tuesday against a lineup which featured a pair of Virginia Tech players, as well as players from other Division I and II programs. They struck out a combined five batters and allowed just one hit.

“I wanted to pump strikes,” said Ott, who is one of the league’s few two-way players who will play the outfield on weekends and pitch on Tuesdays. “You can get away with a lot more against wooden bats than you can against a metal bat. You definitely have your nerves going throwing for the first time this year, but after that first batter, I broke his bat and everything was great.”

“This was definitely a good base and something to grow from,” Armson said. “I was nervous because I’ve never faced college-level competition. So I was happy to see that competition and see some people who will actually swing at my pitches and not just watch them go by.”

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