The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 10, 2013

MIKE MASTOVICH| Shirley lifting Renegades

Mike Mastovich

JOHNSTOWN — Jason Shirley provides the Berkley Hills Renegades with offensive punch and speed on the base paths, a combination that will be important if the defending champions are to challenge for a spot atop the AAABA League standings.

Shirley is batting a league-high .458 (22-for-48) through 22 games. The Youngstown State University product also has eight stolen bases in nine attempts.

The steal numbers should be no surprise. Shirley was perfect in 44 stolen base attempts during his career at Norwin High School and led the state in steals with 27 as a senior.

“Jason has a small strike zone and he’s got very good eye-ball coordination,” Renegades manager Larry McCabe said of his left fielder. “He’s very fast. He’s fleet of foot. He hits to all fields. His advantage is he’s got such great sense of the strike zone and he works the count in his favor. He

doesn’t miss too many pitches.”

Shirley will be a junior at Youngstown State, where he started 26 games this spring and batted .326 in 17 Horizon League contests.

As a freshman, Shirley started 51 games and hit .303 but a hamstring injury carried into his AAABA League rookie season in 2012.

“Last year he was in our program but he pulled a hamstring in the conference tournament when he was at Youngstown State,” McCabe said of the 5-foot-9, 150-pound Shirley. “It wasn’t completely healed. He came to us early in the summer and it was tweaked. He needed rest and sat out the first two weeks of the season. He played a couple games and reinjured the hamstring.”

The Renegades obtained documentation from a physician to enable Shirley to qualify for postseason play locally and in the AAABA Tournament, as the Renegades won the local playoff title and represented the city.

This summer, Shirley has been healthy in the No. 2 spot of the batting order, and his numbers reinforce that fact.

His older brother, Tom Shirley, is a former Renegades standout who played collegiately at Division I Xavier.

He also is a pitcher in the Houston Astros organization after his selection in the ninth round of the 2010 draft.

McCabe’s Renegades also have received a solid boost from IUP sophomore Rick Jones, whose .366 average (26-for-71) ranks fifth in the league.

“Rick has been a pretty steady player for us in the middle infield,” McCabe said of the shortstop. “Defensively he does a good job and offensively he swings a good bat. I’ve had him consistently batting third and sometimes fifth and sixth. At IUP he got a lot of playing time and did pretty well. We knew coming in he’s a good player.”

Jason Shirley and Jones have a combined .403 batting average (48-for-119).

“They both have been pretty solid,” McCabe said.

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Make-up work: The AAABA League is cramming to complete its schedule on the originally set July 17 date.

Rain outs and postponements have put league officials, schedule makers and the teams in a challenging position.

Ten make-up games, all at Point Stadium, are set for this weekend.

Five games will be played on Saturday and another five on Sunday.

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Fields of dreams: The 69th AAABA Tournament will utilize seven area fields this year, with two of those featuring artificial playing surfaces.

Point Stadium continues to be the centerpiece for the tournament, with the host Johnstown teams playing their games in the downtown venue throughout the week.

Johnstown Oldtimers President George Arcurio III listed other fields as Roxbury Park (Monday), Somerset High School (Monday and Tuesday); Westmont Hilltop High School (Monday and Tuesday), Johnstown Middle School, Portage’s Haschak Field, and Lilly’s Washington Memorial Field. Somerset is a recent addition. The Golden Eagles’ field has an artificial surface in the infield.

Monday’s opening day games will begin at noon, with the exception of the official opener at 7:30 p.m. at Point Stadium. Tuesday’s schedule will include games at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and the Johnstown champion will play at 7 p.m.

Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.