When Montour spent five days in St. Petersburg, Fla., late last month, the Spartans found lots of sand, sun and great competition on the diamond.

And they also found one other thing — facts.

“It was not only a good trip but a fact-finding trip,” coach Bob Janeda said.

When the Spartans visited Florida’s Gulf Coast a year earlier, they knew what they were working with as they returned many key players from the program’s 2022 PIAA championship team. But after graduating 10 seniors, including seven starters, from last year’s squad, Janeda was eager to see what his group was all about.

And while Montour went 1-2 on the trip — one of the losses was to a two-time defending Oklahoma state champion — Janeda said he saw enough to believe this should be another big season for a Spartans team that has been on a roll in recent years.

“The goals don’t change. Our expectation is to win the section and go from there,” said Janeda, whose team is slated to host Ambridge on Wednesday in the Class 4A Section 1 opener.

Montour (3-2) has been dominant in section play, winning three consecutive titles while going 31-3. And all three losses — two to Blackhawk and one to Central Valley — were all by a single run. The Spartans are 41-11 overall the past two seasons. They have experienced a ton of postseason success, too, finishing as the WPIAL runner-up and reaching the PIAA semifinals in 2021, finishing as the runner-up in the WPIAL again before winning a PIAA title in 2022, and then reaching the WPIAL semifinals before losing in the first round of the PIAA playoffs a season ago.

And now, after graduating the largest senior class in Janeda’s five seasons, one might think Montour might be in for a rebuild this season. But with Kent State recruit Jake Robinson leading a small but talented senior class, and with a slew of talented underclassmen already securing big roles, this might be more of a reload than a rebuild.

Robinson, a senior shortstop/pitcher, and Maddox Tarquinio, a senior third baseman/pitcher, are the two players remaining who started on the 2022 team. Tarquinio is a Baldwin Wallace recruit. Second baseman Josh Peremba and outfielder Jonathan Cecil are the other two seniors, and both are first-year starters. Peremba plans on playing in college at Trine University in Indiana.

Robinson earned all-section honors last season and is arguably the team’s top player. After batting .329 last season, Robinson is hitting .455 with team highs of two home runs and six RBIs through the first five games. Also one of the team’s two primary starting pitchers, Robinson was the winning pitcher in Montour’s 5-3 non-section triumph against North Hills last week. He doubled, homered and drove in a pair of runs, as well.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” Janeda said. “And he’s quite a leader, too. He’s not a rah-rah guy. He leads by example. Offensively, he uses all fields. He hits with power and is a great gap-to-gap hitter. He rarely strikes out and almost always puts the ball in play. He’s just a patient left-handed hitter. And then defensively he’s our anchor. He has a Division I arm and plays like a Division I shortstop.”

Two of last season’s other top pitchers, Vinnie Markulin and Zac Stern, both graduated, so some young arms will be thrown into the mix this season. Sophomore Michael Ivanoff is the other primary starter. Ivanoff pitched 13⅓ innings and saw some postseason action a season ago. Ivanoff is off to a strong start, going 1-0 with a 0.95 ERA while not giving up a hit in 7⅓ innings. In addition, he’s hitting a team-best .455.

“Our pitching is very solid,” Janeda said. “Lots of strikeouts and they’ve been working ahead of the hitters. We go five or six arms deep.”

One of the other sophomores Janeda is excited about is Matteo Weber, a southpaw who also plays in the outfield and is batting .400. Weber notched the win last week against Eden Christian.

Huge start for Hughes

Few WPIAL players have surged out of the gates faster than Carlynton senior Jacob Hughes, whose big numbers have helped the Cougars (4-2 overall, 2-0 in Class 1A Section 3) already match their win total from each of the past two seasons.

Hughes has made the most of his 23 plate appearances, reaching base a whopping 18 times, which has led to a .783 on-base percentage. Hughes is 9 of 14 at the plate while also drawing eight walks and being hit by a pitch. He also has a team-high 12 RBIs. A season ago, Hughes hit .270 with 13 RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage when the Cougars finished 4-13.

Wash High riding high

Yes, we’re just a couple of weeks into the season, but it’s looking like a team that finished last in its section last season and has struggled over the past decade could be in for a nice turnaround.

Washington is 3-1 overall and 2-0 in Class 2A Section 1, this after the Little Prexies went 4-13 overall and 1-11 in the section last season when they dropped their final six games. Their two section wins have come against a Bentworth team that reached the WPIAL playoffs each of the past three seasons.

The Little Prexies, who have not finished with a winning record or reached the postseason since 2015, have been led offensively by the Callan brothers. Senior Iain Callan is hitting .444 with five RBIs and sophomore William Callan is batting .500 with five RBIs. Senior Wayne Sparks-Gatling has been excellent on the mound, going 2-0 with a 2.33 to go along with 16 strikeouts and just two walks in nine innings.

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.