Kapral Has Developed Into Mountaineers’ Ace
Two years ago when the Dallas baseball team was making its run to the Class 4A state title, Alex Kapral was just a small piece of the puzzle.
Primarily a junior varsity pitcher, Kapral had the advantage of just sitting back and watching, learning from the veteran players in front of him. Kapral, then a sophomore, was truly paying attention.
He watched how the starting pitchers prepared themselves. He learned how the relievers would first get mentally ready and then go about their business in the bullpen, getting loose to enter the game.
“It was great, even though I wasn’t playing, it was the funnest stretch of baseball in my life,” said Kapral, now a senior with the Mountaineers. “Those guys are some of my best friends. I talk to all those guys every day. It was just an awesome experience.”
One of Kapral’s closest friends is Josh Lydon, the Dallas closer the last two seasons who is now pitching for the University of Scranton. Kapral learned quite a bit from Lydon: how he would study the hitters from the bench, begin to start walking around the dugout to loosen up his legs around the fourth inning and then head to the pen in the fifth, not even needing to get the word from manager Ken Kashatus.
“Being a closer is just a different mindset,” Kapral said. “He was in the game from the first pitch, just paying attention to the hitters. You basically have to throw your first inning in the bullpen. You want to make sure you are ready to go when you get out there.”
Kapral wasn’t just paying attention to Lydon. He was watching the starters, as well. But the connection with Lydon no doubt helped him prepare for his role last year, as he was the middle reliever for the Mountaineers, bridging the gap to Lydon when the starters had to come out of the game.
“Me and Josh are pretty good friends, it was each to group us together,” Kapral said. “I just naturally followed him. We would go out to the bullpen together. I was just happy to have a role on the team.”
As his role as a middle reliever began to expand, it was clear that Kashatus was grooming Kapral to be the next closer for the Mountaineers. He was used in some high-leverage situations, games against Tunkhannock and Wyoming Area come to mind when Kapral was called on to get Dallas out of some messy situations.
Between the end of last season and the beginning of this year, Kapral’s role changed without even throwing a pitch. Rather than taking over the closer’s role, Kapral found himself as the ace of the staff. It is a role he has embraced, particularly with his goal at the beginning of the season to lead the team in innings pitched.
“(Kashatus) is really good about being honest with us,” Kapral said. “That is what makes him one of the better coaches in the area. He talked to me and told me that maybe he was looking at me to close. I was ready to do whatever, I have a lot of confidence in myself. If I can pitch the most innings on the team, that means I am helping out the team as much as possible. Whatever role he puts me in, I am going to do it to the best of my ability.”
A three-pitch pitcher, Kapral features a fastball, curve and change. He takes the most pride in the curveball, and occasionally drops down a bit to try and give it a bit of a slide. He is also confident he can throw either pitch at any point in the count.
In five appearances this season, all of them starts, Kapral leads the team in innings pitched with 26.1. He is 2-1 with a 2.39 ERA and has 18 strikeouts and four walks. Of his five starts, he has gone the distance in two of them.
Kapral does feel the difference between being a starter and reliever.
“When you are coming out of the bullpen, you can just feel the tension,” Kapral said. “It’s a different way to pitch, you are not leaving anything out there in the tank. It is more emotional. I am happy with the role I have now. I have been lucky to start some games. I like having control over the whole game. When you are the closer you do get to put your finger print on it. Now I know I just have to keep the game close because our guys can score runs and they play great in the field. It feels good being in control.”
Kapral plans on attending Penn State where he will study astrophysics and astronomy. He would like to remain involved in the game of baseball, possibly considering playing for the club team. But before that, he hopes to help the Mountaineers make a deep run in the postseason.
But just like he was able to pick the brains of the older players on the team the last two seasons, Kapral is more than willing to share his experiences with the younger players this year.
“I try to emulate when guys did for me,” Kapral said. “Every person is different. I try to be positive and help guys out when I can. I try not to be distance, try to be in it with them. I talk to them and give them confidence. I watch the JV games and they are good. I don’t need to fake confidence with them. You never know when you are going to need them. It could be this year.”
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