Striking Gold
Mars pitcher Craska helps West Region win Keystone Games title
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Eagle Staff Writer
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August 9, 2017
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Mars High School pitcher Frank Craska contributed to the West Region team’s winning of a gold medal at the recent Keystone Games in York.

YORK — During his high school coaching career at Our Lady of Sacred Heart, Butler graduate Phil McCarren has produced four section championships and six WPIAL playoff appearances.

All of that is impressive enough.

But this summer, he struck gold.

McCarren was head coach of the Scholastic (players entering their junior and senior years) West Region team at the Keystone State Games July 26-30. That team went undefeated in winning the gold medal at the event.

Freeport coach Ed Carr and Franklin Regional coach Bob Saddler were assistant coaches. Incoming seniors Justin Stewart of Butler and Frank Craska of Mars were key members of the squad.

McCarren has been head coach of the West Region team for the past three years. His team won the silver medal in 2015 and also claimed gold last year.

“We only had two players (Pat Brogan of OLSH, Ben Visnesky of Serra Catholic) come back from last year,” McCarren said. “We have tryouts every year and some players recommended by coaches might get an individual tryout.”

Stewart, a catcher for Butler, played in the Keystone State Games three years ago. That team won the bronze medal.

He tried out for this year’s team during a session at Franklin Regional High School.

“There were probably 40 or 50 kids who came down,” Stewart said of the tryout. “They formed a good team. We could hit the ball and play defense.”

They had plenty of pitching, too. That’s necessary when you play five games in three days.

“We made sure we had plenty of arms,” McCarren said. “No team was going to make a run at the title without that.”

The Keystone State Games divide the state into eight regions. The West Region won its pool by defeating Pocono 9-2, Lehigh Valley 1-0, Metro (Philadelphia) 8-2 and Delaware Valley 5-4 in 10 innings.

“That extra-inning game showed the mettle of our team,” Craska said.

Craska pitched the gold medal game and Stewart was behind the plate. That combo helped produce an 8-1 win over Lehigh Valley. Craska pitched 5.2 innings, struck out six and allowed just the one run.

When he wasn’t pitching, Craska played first base or was the designated hitter. He hit .467 and scored three runs in the tournament.

“I pitched our first playoff game for Mars this year and that experience helped me in the gold medal game,” Craska admitted. “The coaches told me they would probably pitch me in that game, so I was ready.

“That (gold medal) game was 2-1 in the sixth before we broke it open.”

Stewart was the other half of that all-Butler County battery. He hit .375 in the tournament and scored seven runs. Despite playing catcher, Stewart hit leadoff in the batting order.

“It was fun,” he said of the tournament. “We didn’t know each other very well, but all of the kids had baseball in common. We loved to play.”

McCarren inherited the head coaching reins from Serra Catholic coach Brian Dzorenda, who he served as an assistant at the Games in 2013 and 2014.

“Bobby Saddler and I coached together for a long time and he was good friends with Ed Carr,” McCarren said. “That’s how the three of us got together.”

Carr said he and Saddler had coached together for nine years.

“We were in each other’s weddings. That’s how close we are,” he said.

McCarren described the Keystone State Games as “like a mini-Pa. Olympics, a great getaway week for 15 WPIAL kids — and they all contributed.”

Hampton, Central Catholic, Deer Lakes, Neshannock, Uniontown, Norwin, Burrell and Steel Valley were also represented on the squad. OLSH had three players, Serra Catholic two.

“We had a lot of all-section names on this team,” Carr said. “Almost every guy on the team was connected or had an acquaintance with another guy on the team. That really helped in the team coming together.

“The guys built a bond early on. This was a great experience for all of us.”