When the Northern Allegheny League All-Star baseball team was announced, Port Allegany junior Howie Stuckey was at the top of the list.
The three-year starter for the Gators was named the NAL Small-School North Division Most Valuable Player in voting conduted among the league’s coaches, with sophomore teammate Cater Moses joining him on the loop’s All-Star squad.
Stuckey led Port in almost every statistical category at the plate, finishing his junior campaign with a team-best .567 batting average, 34 hits, 25 RBI, 21 runs scored, 20 stolen bases, 10 doubles, one triple, and two home runs while striking out only once. He was equally dominant on the mound, notching three complete-game one-hitters on the way to a 4-1 record as a starter with 70 strikeouts against 16 walks, allowing just three earned runs all season for a microscopic 0.56 ERA in 37.1 innings pitched.
“Coming into the season. I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, but with no seniors and a few juniors I don’t think anyone outside of our team and staff expected much. (Assistant coach Lance) Baker and I knew, though, that we had a special player in Howie Stuckey,” Gator head coach Nate Zitnik wrote.
“Howie didn’t disappoint. He had a breakout season offensively and delivered some stellar performances on the mound. He’s a difference maker. His numbers were impressive enough to garner him respect among the league’s best, and Coach Baker and I certainly agreed with the other league coaches in regard to tabbing him with League MVP honors. What we are most happy with, however, is the fact that he will be back one more season.”
Moses wasn’t far behind Stuckey on the team leaderboard, batting .407 with 24 hits, 16 RBI and 12 runs scored. His first varsity home run was a memorable one, breaking a seventh-inning tie in the playoff game at Otto-Eldred.
“Something else that Coach Baker and I are particularly happy about is the fact that Carter Moses lifted and practiced his way from a freshman that got mostly JV innings to a sophomore that earned a place among the league’s All-Stars,” Zitnik wrote. “Carter quickly made his way to the four-hole and did an outstanding job protecting Howie in the three-spot. It’s difficult to pitch around a guy when the hitter after him is hitting .400.
“What’s more impressive about Carter’s numbers are the manner in which they came. He had some huge RBI — key hits — and big runs scored. He was certainly thrust into a big role as a young player, but Carter was representative of our team a whole. Young guys asked to serve in a capacity that they previously had no experience with and they delivered! I thought it was most fitting that about 24 hours after being tabbed a league All-Star, Carter delivered a go-ahead home run in the top of the seventh against one of the toughest teams in the region.”
Of the season as a whole, Zitnik wrote, “We began this season discussing our situation. We knew what our record was the previous couple seasons. We knew how talented some of the teams around us were. We talked about what anyone outside our baseball family must have thought about us, but we decided that didn’t matter. We embraced the low expectations of those around us and made practicing and playing with an ‘Underdog Mentality’ our identity, and we were three outs away from delivering what would have been the biggest upset win in my coaching tenure.
“This was a really fun year to coach. The growth and development of everyone on the team was representative of their ability to be coached, trust in Coach Baker and I as well as each other, and their willingness to make make mistakes and learn from them.
Everyone was asked to fill a role that they may or may not have been ready for, and that certainly includes our All-Stars. Howie was asked to lead again this season... but lead without Dave Talkington and Tyler Lashway (both program players and league All Stars themselves before graduating last year). He was asked to log more innings than he had previously and pitch in some make or break games. Carter was asked to transition from a backup first baseman and JV pitcher to our four-hole protecting the league MVP and pitching in the biggest game our program has seen in a few years. We are very happy for both of these young men, and for our team as a whole.
“They’re all out there playing summer baseball getting better right now, too. Is it next baseball season yet?”