Deer Lakes’ Jake McCaskey named Valley News Dispatch Baseball Player of the Year
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Deer Lakes, senior, pitcher/shortstop
Jake McCaskey tried to picture the scenario: a hitter version of himself against the pitching version.
With the game on the line, who wins?
“Good question,” he said. “I think the pitcher would definitely get ahead in the count, but as a hitter with two strikes, I’d find a way to put the ball in play somewhere. But that’s a tough one.”
It’s a toss-up because of how well McCaskey did in both areas this season. The California (Pa.) recruit hit .448 with six doubles, five triples and 14 RBIs. On the mound, he used a mix of a high-80s mph fastball, a curveball and a slider to go 5-2 with a 1.54 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 45 1⁄3 innings. He led Deer Lakes to the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs, where the Lancers fell, 1-0, in a first-round pitcher’s duel between McCaskey and West Mifflin’s Ben Visnesky.
Whether the pitching or hitting version of McCaskey wins remains unclear, but his powers combined make him the Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year, edging Plum’s Ryan Kircher.
How do you feel about the season?
I was really excited going into it, and it went a lot better than a lot of people thought we were going to do. It’s always great proving people wrong, and that’s what we wanted to do. (We wanted to) do what we knew we could do and prove everybody else wrong.
What was the most exciting part of the year?
The Ripken is always a good one, going down there and really seeing what you’ve got on the roster. But definitely going on a playoff run late, getting a couple walk-offs in the year, the whole year was fantastic.
What was the pitcher’s duel like in the playoffs?
Last year, I got to play the field when we went to that and the consolation game. You go out there battling every inning, and you’ve just got to hope to put something up in your half of hitting. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that because Visnesky’s a great pitcher. We just fell short.
How did you feel after that game?
Everything hits you really quick and it’s like yes, this is really it. This is the last game we’re going to play in green and gold. I really couldn’t have asked more for a senior season. I had fun with all the guys. We had great connections. I really can’t complain about a lot.
Does anything stick out about your four-year experience?
I had a fantastic experience. I don’t know if I could have had that experience anywhere else. The timing coming from being able to start my freshman year, I couldn’t have asked for more than that opportunity, to better myself from my freshman year and play all four years.
What do you look forward to the most about college?
I’ve got to say baseball. I like the education, but baseball is my greatest love. I’m really excited for it, and being out on my own and just trying out life for the first time.
Your strikeout numbers picked up this year. Was there a big change for you there?
I was more confident with my fastball velocity. I knew I didn’t have to throw it as hard as I could, and I could have more command. My slider was a lot better this year, and I could really even throw that early in the count and late in the count.
Do you have a favorite pitch?
I love the slider. It’s always my go-to.
What do you like the most: hitting, pitching or fielding?
I can’t really limit it down to one. I love all aspects of it. You’re not the first one to ask me that question, but I’m not really ready to answer that question.
Any players you looked up to growing up?
I always looked up to (former MLB player and Mt. Lebanon graduate) Don Kelly. He played with the Detroit Tigers when I was growing up, and I got lessons off him when I was younger. He ended up getting traded to the Marlins, but he’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met in my life. He’s just outstanding. He’s so humble. I’ve always looked up to him, and he was always my go-to to keep pushing on and hopefully one day make it up there.
Did you take lessons with him in the area?
Every so often, with him being in the majors and everything, it was very tough to meet with him. But I got to see him every once in a while. He’s actually a scout now for the Tigers. I got to see him once before he had to report back to the Tigers, but every once in a while I’ll shoot him a text and let him know what’s going on and everything. He always gives me a little bit of support.
What’s your best attribute as a player?
Probably my hustle and speed. There’s going to be days when my fastball velocity (is off), and there’s going to be days when I don’t hit, but I know for a fact that’s always going to be there: my aggressiveness. I’m going to be able to steal an extra base or something like that.
Do you have a best baseball memory?
Probably my first home run as a kid. That was a big feat. I’ve got to say that was my top one. I think I was 12. I was never a big power hitter — I’m still not a huge power hitter — but it felt good getting it out of the ballpark. I know my dad was happy about it.
Any baseball superstitions?
I never really had any big superstitions. I always tried, but then I’d change it up because it doesn’t work all the time. I keep using everything. I never have that one I have to do.
What about any of your teammates?
I know Tyler Smith always did the same thing going into the box. He’d always have to step into the box, then swipe towards the line with his feet and then step out. I never did ask him about it, but I noticed him doing it every time.
If you had a walk-up song, what would you pick?
I’d probably have to go with 80s rock or something, taking it back. I’m a big country fan, but as a walk-up song I think I’d have to go with something 80s rock. Maybe AC/DC “Thunderstruck.”
So you’re an 80s music fan?
I do like 80s music. My dad got me into it, and I do like listening to it every once in a while.
What do you like doing in your free time?
Other than working on the sport, just hanging with the friends and family. I play the guitar a little, too. (I’ve played) just for a little over a year.
Do you have a favorite song to play?
I just learned a little bit of Pink Floyd, and I kind of like that. I think learning guitar turned me on to Pink Floyd a little more. I think some of their songs are on the easier side to play, so I like messing around with it.
Do you have a summer job?
No, no summer job, just summer baseball.
Who do you play for?
Baird Brothers, in Youngstown. It’s a Class B league.
Last movie you saw in the theaters?
It was “Avengers: Infinity War.” I was disappointed by the ending, but overall it was a good movie.
Do you see all the comic book movies?
I’m not a huge comic book nerd, but I try to watch as much as possible. I like getting caught up in that.
Favorite TV shows?
I’m a big “The Office” guy, or “Friends.”
Definitely Jim in “The Office,” pulling all the pranks on Dwight and everything.
Three words that describe you?
Definitely outgoing, because I don’t think I know when to shut up sometimes. Aggressive. And dedicated.
First team all-stars
Freeport, Sr., pitcher/infield
Leadoff batter set the tone for Freeport’s offense, hitting a team-high .490 with eight extra-base hits and scoring 23 runs. The Gettysburg recruit posted a 3.26 ERA and 24 strikeouts to help the Yellowjackets finish second in Section 1-4A.
Plum, sr., catcher
A dependable battery mate for the deep Mustangs pitching staff, Froehlich hit .358, with 10 doubles, two homers and 14 RBIs. He picked his hitting up in section play, with a .500 average in those games.
Freeport, sr., pitcher/infield
Although not a prototypical power pitcher, the Yellowjackets’ ace proved very effective, posting a 5-2 record, 2.66 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 44 2⁄3 innings. At the plate, he hit .339, with three triples and 11 RBIs.
Burrell, sr., outfield
The leader in extra-base hits for the Section 1-3A co-champs saved his biggest hits for the biggest games: key triples in wins over Valley and Steel Valley and a homer in the Bucs’ playoff win over Mt. Pleasant.
Plum, sr., pitcher
The Kent State recruit dominated opponents from the mound all season; the lefty went 4-0 with a 1.32 ERA, yielding just 19 hits and striking out 69 batters in 37 innings to lead Plum to the playoffs.
Valley, sr., Catcher
A four-year starter behind the plate, McNabb provided steady leadership and a steadier bat. The Pitt-Bradford recruit paced the Section 1-3A co-champs’ offense with a .360 batting average and 17 RBIs.
Fox Chapel, sr., pitcher/shortstop
Taking the ball in the Foxes’ biggest games, Miles had a 2.75 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 43 1⁄3 innings for a playoff team. He also hit a team-high .381 and drove in nine runs.
Plum, sr., Infield/pitcher
The La Roche College recruit was steady in the field, at the plate and on the mound, hitting .434 with 12 RBIs and going 2-1 with 21 strikeouts in 23 innings to help Plum reach the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Deer Lakes, Sr., pitcher/catcher
Shaler transfer and West Liberty recruit made the most of his one year with the Lancers, hitting .382 with seven doubles, three homers and 24 RBIs and going 4-1 on the mound to help them reach the playoffs.
Burrell, Jr., pitcher
The ace of the staff for Burrell posted a 7-1 record and struck out 48 batters to help the Bucs earn a split of the section title and reach the WPIAL quarterfinals for a second straight year.
SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS
Dom Carlisano, Plum, sr.
Markus Cestra, Plum, sr., IF
Matt Charlton, Freeport, sr., 1B
Shawn Demharter, Valley, sr., P/OF
Alex Ehalt, Freeport, sr., C
Jake Kelly, Deer Lakes, sr., OF
Zac Kuniak, Highlands, jr., SS/P
Corey Kerecz, Leechburg, sr., SS/P
Cayden Quinn, Valley, fr., P
Tanner Spohn, Burrell, so., P/OF