Lasting impression: Lehner, Tyrone left with only what ifs
The Mirror is recognizing some high school senior spring sports athletes who missed out on their final scholastic seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tyrone Area High School baseball team won its first Mountain League title in nearly 30 years and earned the top seed in the District 6 Class 3A playoffs last season.
The Golden Eagles fell a game short of the state playoffs when they were upset by fourth-seeded Mount Union in the district semifinals. The Trojans went on to win both the District 6 and PIAA Class 3A title a couple weeks later.
Many of the players from that Tyrone team played in the George B. Kelley Federation over the summer and won a league title there before setting their sights on redemption in the District 6 and state playoffs this spring.
But the Golden Eagles and star senior Kevin Lehner never got the chance.
The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the entire high school baseball season, leaving Lehner and his teammates to ponder what might have been.
“I was shocked and disappointed, but I knew it was happening to everyone in every sport, so there wasn’t really anything you could do about it,” Lehner said. “We had a really good team this year, and we had worked really hard in the offseason for this year.”
Tyrone coach Kevin Soellner, who also coaches the Federation team, said that work put in was unmatched.
“My two boys, who are older than Kevin, always make fun of me and say he’s my favorite son,” Soellner said. “He does everything. He’s the hardest worker I have ever seen or been around.”
Lehner finished his three-year high school career with a .402 batting average, 45 RBIs, 22 extra base hits and 70 hits overall. He certainly had a chance to reach a milestone of 100 hits with a big senior year.
“He’s the best bat I have ever seen and been around,” Soellner said. “I know I’m gushing over him more than I should, but that’s just how he is. Baseball is what he dreams of, and it’s all he ever wanted to do.”
Lehner made the first team of the Altoona Mirror All-Star squad the last two seasons and earned an offer to continue his baseball career and pursue a degree in civil engineering at Penn State Harrisburg, which he accepted.
“I was really excited when I got the offer from Penn State Harrisburg,” Lehner said. “The coach talked to me about playing the outfield, because I’m such an athlete. He said he loved my bat and was looking forward to me going there.”
Soellner believes Lehner could have drawn interest from larger schools if the season had played out
“It killed me, because this year was super big for him as far as colleges go,” Soellner said. “I wanted to have him have a chance to get some more offers. He’s going to Penn State Harrisburg, which is very good, but he probably could have helped himself out a little more with some bigger schools (if the season was played).”
Tyrone improved from 5-13 in Lehner’s sophomore year to an 18-win team last season.
“It wasn’t that we never had talent,” Soellner said. “We always had the talent, but we didn’t have the mindset to get over that hump. Even though last year’s team may have been a hair more talented that this year’s team, I think this year’s team was more ready to win from a mental standpoint. They knew they could win tight games, and Kevin had a lot to do with that.”
Lehner said familiarity with his teammates also played a role.
“We have a lot of chemistry,” Lehner said. “We play over the summer together, and I feel like the more you win and play together, you get more comfortable, confident and you win games.”
For now, Lehner passes the time by lifting and finishing school work from home while also getting out to hit a few balls and catch some fly balls with his dad, but nothing can replace the senior season he’ll never get to play.
“I miss playing with my teammates and spending time with my coaches,” Lehner said. “They are more than coaches. They are like friends to me. I miss competing in the Mountain League. It’s really competitive and makes you into a good player.”