By Matt Popchock
Mother Nature hasn’t been very kind to those affiliated with local high school baseball programs recently, and Shaler starting pitcher Matt Klena was not forgiving to North Allegheny Wednesday afternoon either.
The Titans (1-0, 3-1) scraped together just enough offense for a 3-2 victory over the visiting Tigers (0-1, 1-1) at Shaler High School’s Matulevic Field in the Class AAAA Section 1 opener for both teams. Klena made it stand up, striking out six and going the distance for a significant early-season win.
“It was a matter of team play and hitting the ball,” said the senior, who limited NA’s potent offense to six hits and allowed just one walk until the seventh inning. “Everyone played well today, everyone helped each other.
“It’s always real nice to beat them.”
In that final frame, he got two pinch hitters out on his first two pitches, then walked Jimmy Divosevic after the North Allegheny left fielder worked the count full. Klena then issued another base on balls to Anthony Wolosik, which prompted a visit from second-year manager Brian Junker.
“I just told him to relax, because he’s got the best group of fielders behind him,” Junker said.
Sure enough, Nick Sell hit a solid grounder to short that was fielded cleanly by Ryan Mincher to end the threat and the game.
Mincher went 2-for-3 with a run scored, and first baseman Derek Sullivan, who also ended 2-for-3, provided what proved to be the game-winning RBI.
“I know what kind of kids I’ve got…they’re hard-nosed, they’re waking up [early], working out before school, and today it showed,” Junker said. “We’re going to run, we’re going to hit, and we’re not going to quit for all seven innings. When you do that, you’re going to be in a lot of games. Today they battled against a very good team.”
“We’ve been in our gym a lot, lifting and doing anything we could do while the weather was bad,” Klena added.
Matt Clesinski and Mincher led off the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles, and Clesinski went to third on a fielder’s choice when Ben Mulig grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Zach Schramm then reached base on a ground ball that skipped off Sell’s glove, allowing Clesinski to come home for a 1-0 Shaler lead.
The Titans added to their lead in the third with more two-out action. Mincher, who had doubled with one out in the inning, scored when Zack Schramm doubled on a 1-2 pitch to right-center field. Sullivan then gave Shaler a 3-0 advantage with a well-placed single off starting pitcher Brice Nikithser that brought home Schramm.
Nikithser took his first loss of the season in 5 1/3 innings of work, allowing all three Shaler runs, two of them earned, off nine hits. He struck out three and walked two.
His teammates answered right back in the top of the fourth. Sell led off by hitting one deep to right for a stand-up double–the only base hit Klena would allow to the heart of NA’s order–and with two outs, Tanner Wilt, who finished 2-for-3, came through with a clean single to get the Tigers on the board. Ben Mathews followed with an RBI single of his own, and Matt Waugaman reached on a passed ball third strike, but Klena got George Marsico on a called third strike to end the inning.
Nikithser left with one out in the bottom of the sixth after allowing a double to Jacob Hetz and a walk to Alex Conway. Cory Fultz then came in from center field to relieve Nikithser and got the second out when catcher Cody Gaertner made a difficult throw to first on a sacrifice bunt. Fultz then induced a ground out to third to salvage the inning and give North Allegheny one last chance.
“I don’t think we really got to [Nikithser] as much as we wanted to, but let’s face it, NA made some great plays,” Junker said. “I felt we had them on the ropes [in the seventh], then their catcher made a great play on that drag bunt. Then we hit that shot down to third that could’ve ended the game, but their third baseman dove and threw our guy out.”
The teams meet again at North Allegheny Apr. 28. This game was originally scheduled there, but the teams swapped home dates due to poor field conditions at NA resulting from the recent storms. In the meantime, the Tigers are slated to host Gateway in a non-section game Friday, while Shaler is home to Butler Friday in another Section 1 contest.
“The first thing I told them was, enjoy it tonight,” Junker said, “because we’ve got to get better tomorrow.”
For continuing coverage of WPIAL baseball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2011 regular season!