Trojans deliver 700th for coach

MOUNT UNION – Tuesday was, on all accounts but one, a normal evening on the diamond for the Mount Union baseball team.

Darrian Stapleton pitched a strong game, the defense came up big behind him, coach Nick Imperioli paced about with his normal intensity and it all resulted in a 10-0 win over Inter-County Conference opponent Juniata Valley in five innings.

But this game was not unique because of Stapleton’s dominating performance from the mound nor any diving play from the defense. This win was one to remember because it marked an incredible achievement for the veteran coach.

It was his 700th career victory.

Imperioli has put some impressive feathers in his cap in his 40 years of coaching. He led the Trojans to the state championship in 1988, 1993 and 1995; placed second or third in the state four times; was a District 6 runner-up nine times; and won the District 6 championship a total of 17 times, including in 2012. His career record of 700 wins against 189 losses and three ties speaks for itself – he is believed to hold the record for most wins by a Pennsylvania high school baseball coach.

Retired Chambersburg coach Bob Thomas is listed in the National Federation of High Schools record book with 612 wins, the highest number that could be found from any verifiable source.

But to watch Imperioli’s reaction after the game, it would have been hard to guess this game marked anything significant.

He was congratulated by the team after the Trojans’ 10th run crossed the plate to end the game early, but he was soon out on the field – rake in hand – cleaning up around home plate. He spoke of Stapleton’s strong game and a few defensive plays which kept his team in the lead, and if not prompted might have completely glossed over the personal significance of the win.

He did pause from his raking to reflect.

“I’m happy about it,” he said. “The thing I can say is, it’s not just me. I’m just part of it if it’s a team. I’ve had a lot of great players over the 40 years, and I’ve had a lot of good help. I’d like to think it’s a great team effort.

“I guess if we were an orchestra, I’d be the conductor. But I don’t play the instruments – they do,” he continued.

Even if Imperioli downplayed his own part in the achievement, humbly pointing to his coaching staff and players, others who have known him were willing to point out what a key component he was in symphony of wins that has been his coaching career.

Terry Bowser, former sports editor of The (Huntingdon) Daily News who covered Mount Union baseball through much of Imperioli’s career, said the key to Imperioli’s success has been his focus on the things he can control – pitching, defense and avoiding errors.

“Obviously his record speaks for itself,” Bowser said. “I’ve not been around a better high school coach than he is. He teaches the game and he has so much emphasis on fundamentals. That’s been a formula that’s tried and true and worked for him for almost four decades.”

But Bowser also made it clear Imperioli is more than just a great coach – he is also a great person.

“As good a coach as he is, he’s a better teacher and a better man,” Bowser said.

And Tuesday, those fundamentals turned out to be crucial in the Trojans’ win.

Through five innings Stapleton threw six strikeouts, didn’t allow a single walk and only gave up two singles to the Hornets. Juniata Valley did put the ball in play a few times, but outstanding plays from the fundamentally sound Trojans – such as a diving catch from left fielder Trevon Walker and strong defense throughout from third baseman Brady Goodling and shortstop Cole Boozel – kept any offensive threats from the Hornets at bay.

On the offensive end, Juniata Valley starting hurler Tanner Perow gave up two runs on seeing-eye singles just over the shortstop by Kylor and Goodling to put Mount Union up 2-0 in the bottom of the third.

In the fourth and fifth, the Trojans then took advantage of replacement pitcher Wyatt Belinda’s many walks and a slew of Hornet errors on the field to make the score 8-0 until they put up two more on Juniata Valley’s final pitcher Zach Beam for the 10-0 win.

“I thought we played well defensively, but we’re not hitting the ball that well. But we won, and that’s the important thing,” Imperioli said.

Like he’s said 699 times before.

Mount Union (2-1, 2-1) travels to Glendale Thursday.