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DIFFERENT YEAR, SAME GOAL: Following State Championship Campaign, Clarion Baseball Gunning for a Repeat

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Last year around this time, Clarion baseball coach Rob Jewett gathered his team together at the end of the first practice and delivered what was a startling message.

“This is the first step to the state championship,” he said.

Jewett’s words proved incredibly prophetic as Clarion — despite a pair of first-round playoff losses the previous two seasons — marched convincingly all the way to the PIAA Class A title last season against District 9 rival DuBois Central Catholic at Penn State University.

This year, there were no inspirational speeches. Jewett’s players know what they are capable of — and they wholly believe they can win another state crown.

“We’re pumped,” Jewett said. “The boys are working really, really hard. They got it last year and they want to do it again this year. That’s their goal. But the hardest thing is they have the targets on their backs now. It’s more of a mental game now. We’re ready, though.”

The expectations are sky high because all but one player returns this year from that championship team a year ago.

Stars like pitcher Devon Lauer, shortstop Dawson Smail, slugger and pitcher Derek Smail and .400-hitters Noah Harrison and Bryce Brinkley return to a team that went 21-4 a year ago.

Jewett said that high bar is a good and bad thing.

“We like the team we are putting out there right now,” the coach said.

Dawson Smail, a senior, put up eye-popping numbers at the top of the order. The Xavier recruit batted .538 with four home runs, 29 RBIs and 15 doubles in 80 at-bats. He drew 15 walks and struck out just 12 times. His on-base percentage was .600. His slugging percentage .900.

Harrison hit .458 with a team-leading 30 RBIs. Brinkley hit .404 and Derek Smail mashed four home runs for the Bobcats.

But no one was hotter last season, especially down the stretch, as Lauer.

The right-hander had a 16-inning scoreless streak in the state playoffs. He was 9-1 with a 0.50 ERA on the season. In 56 innings pitched, he struck out 52, walked 17 and gave up 41 hits.

It’s naïve to expect the same dominance from Lauer this season, but big things are still expected from the Bobcat ace.

“Again, that’s the mental aspect,” Jewett said. “Last season was last season. It’s hard to recreate what happened last season. (Lauer) was heavily involved in basketball, so we’re trying to get him back into baseball shape. But Devon is such a smart pitcher. He’s not necessarily overpowering, but he knows how to pitch. He knows how to handle a game. For him, it’s the execution of his pitches. As we were rolling through the playoffs (last year), he was at his best.”

Clarion won 15-0, 10-0 and 3-0 to reach the title game and had a 22-inning scoreless streak until DCC plated a run in the top of the fifth inning in the state championship game, a 4-1 win for the Bobcats.

Clarion and DCC will meet again this season in a very special venue.

The two teams will battle on April 27 at PNC Park. First pitch is 6 p.m. and admission is free.

“I was approached by a former Clarion University baseball player who works for the Pirates — Matt Privette,” Jewett said. “He sent me an email about the opportunity to play a game at PNC Park. He said if you bring someone with you, it gets a little cheaper.”

Initially, Jewett thought of Clarion-Limestone, but both teams would fundraise from the same area. Then it hit him: a state championship rematch at the home of the Pirates against DCC.

“(DuBois Central Catholic baseball coach) Adam Fox jumped all over it,” Jewett said. “He’s a great dude. He’s very appreciative of the opportunity and I think it’s going to be really cool for all our kids to be on that field and experience a stadium like that.”

Jewett said fans can bring their own food and drink to the park because no concession stands will be open. There will be a scoreboard and a public address announcer for the game.

“I’m bringing my own announcer,” Jewett said. “I’m trying to get Dave Constantino to do it.

“I’m hoping there will be a good crowd,” Jewett said. “Adam runs a great program over there and I know we’re gonna have a good game. It’s a great opportunity for the kids.”