“Mr. High School Sports” – WPIAL Baseball Playoff Highlights: First Round/Quarterfinals
By Matt Popchock
They say the last three outs are the toughest to get. Carmichaels pitchers Trevor Robinson and Nick Clarke, along with Chartiers Valley pitchers Matt Mulvihill and Tyler Kane will have new appreciation for that baseball proverb after Monday.
Down 3-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning, and down to its last strike on multiple occasions, Class A No. 1 seed Serra Catholic avoided a major upset and scratched out three unearned runs off Robinson and Clarke to force extra innings against the ninth-seeded Mighty Mikes. The Eagles survived, 4-3, scoring the walk-off, come-from-behind Quarterfinal win in the bottom of the ninth when Matt Loftis, who led off with a double, beat an errant throw to home.
“Luck, straight luck, that’s all there is to it,” manager Brian Dzurenda said. “We did not deserve to win the game. Carmichaels did. They played great.”
“They threw their junk pitcher. Our weakness is curve balls…and we need to start giving better looks at off-speed pitches,” said winning pitcher Alain Girman, who tossed five innings of relief and ripped a two-run single down the right side in the seventh to tie the game.
“Then they put their number two pitcher in, he threw fastballs, and we just started hitting them.”
“Trevor Robinson threw a lot of off-speed stuff. I saw him pitch against Rochester, and I thought to myself, if this kid throws, we’re in a lot of trouble,” Dzurenda said. “We hit fastballs, but you throw that slow stuff at us, we struggle. We’re used to seeing 80 to 85 [miles per hour], and he’s throwing 70-75. He kept us off-balance.”
Nevertheless, after the Eagles survived easily their biggest scare all year–and perhaps their only one–Girman said he is confident the team will hit better against Semifinal opponent and No. 5 seed Chartiers-Houston, which has beaten Avonworth and Western Beaver in subsequent rounds to advance.
“We’re not used to this [adversity], but we feel we’re good enough as a team that we won’t put too much pressure on ourselves,” he said. “Hopefully we can really stroke the ball next time.”
Oddly enough, the nightcap of the Monday tripleheader at the Burkett Athletic Complex in Robinson Township also came down to a play at the plate.
No. 5 seed Chartiers Valley advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA Semifinals with a 4-3 win over No. 4 seed Blackhawk, throwing out the potential tying run on a bang-bang play at home in the bottom of the seventh to secure the victory and send the Colts’ dugout into a frenzy as they stormed the field following the call.
“Blackhawk’s very good…they’re an equal team. Our two teams are very similar. We knew it would be very tight,” manager Jim Jaskowski said. “We blew some opportunities, and we had a feeling it might come down to a close play like that.”
Char’ Valley had taken a 4-1 lead into the last half-inning thanks largely to a two-run single by Jon Kletzli in the first and a big night from Luke Horew, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles and three runs, the last of which came on a wild pitch and proved to be the game-winner.
That’s because the Cougars drew back-to-back walks on just nine pitches from Mulvihill, who went six-plus innings and struck out four in victory, and the first of those runners eventually cut the deficit to 4-2 on a one-out sacrifice fly before Tyler Damazo drove a 1-0 pitch from Kane to deep right-center field.
The third Blackhawk run scored easily as new center fielder Bryan Leipold, who had just come off the bench in a double switch, scooped up the ball in front of the fence and made a strong throw to shortstop Jake Horew. The cutoff man then gunned the ball to catcher John O’Neill, who hung on and applied the tag to pinch-runner Brad Szupo.
“We do relays so much. Bryan threw a strike to Jake, who threw a strike, with a quick release, to John, who’s been practicing blocking the plate. Perfect execution,” Jaskowski said.
“It was a great relay by Jake. Without a bullet like that, we’re not getting the runner,” O’Neill added. “When I saw the throw from the outfield, I knew we had a shot at him, so I just tried to put my foot down in front of the plate and not let him get across. We made the play, and fortunately, we got the call.”
“I’m proud of my kids. We’ve had rain, weather delays…so many things to overcome. They’re excited. And now they have to go against a team that’s 18-0, so we go from one extreme to another,” Jaskowski said.
“But that’s what makes [the playoffs] fun.”
The fun will continue when the WPIAL Baseball Semifinals get going Wednesday afternoon. As Jaskowski said, his Colts will take on undefeated Elizabeth Forward in one portion of the Class AAA bracket. The Warriors kept their historic season going with an easy win over No. 8 seed Greensburg-Salem.
Here are the rest of Wednesday’s Semifinal matchups for all four classifications…
(1) Peters Township vs. (4) Butler
(10) Bethel Park vs. (3) Seneca Valley
(2) Hampton vs. (11) Hopewell
(9) Mohawk vs. (5) Riverside
(2) Laurel vs. (3) Waynesburg
(2) Neshannock vs. (3) California
…and here’s how they got there:
*Peters Township blasted No. 9 seed Latrobe in the Class AAAA Quarterfinals at the Washington & Jefferson Athletic Complex Monday after the Wildcats had upended No. 3 seed Shaler 3-1 in First Round action last Friday evening at W & J. Also at that site last Friday, No. 12 seed Hempfield stunned No. 5 seed Kiski Area 6-5 while Butler was earning a mercy-rule victory over Penn-Trafford at North Allegheny High School. The Golden Tornado made darn sure lightning didn’t strike twice, as they routed Hempfield Monday at LaRoche College.
But the biggest upset in Class AAAA to this point has been Bethel Park’s 2-1 upset of WPIAL champion Pine-Richland last Friday morning at the Burkett Complex. No. 2 seed Norwin remained undefeated and blasted Penn Hills at Mount Pleasant High School that day for the right to meet Bethel Park in the Quarterfinals at Woodland Hills High School, a wild 12-10 triumph by the Black Hawks in which 32 hits were collected by both teams. Meanwhile, Seneca Valley easily took care of Pittsburgh Central Catholic in First Round action at Pullman Park in Butler, where they met Quarterfinal opponent Upper St. Clair, the No. 11 seed, which had upset Plum in round one. The Raiders kept their season going Monday with a walk-off bases-loaded single in the seventh to cap a 2-1 thriller.
*In Class AAA the changing of the guard began in earnest, as No. 7 seed Thomas Jefferson posted a 4-1 win over No. 10 seed and 2010 WPIAL silver medalist Moon in First Round action at the Burkett Complex Saturday afternoon. However, No. 11 seed Hopewell, the team that beat section rival Moon for the title last year, upset No. 6 seed Montour at the Washington & Jefferson Athletic Complex that day. No. 2 seed Hampton eliminated TJ in a Quarterfinal slugfest at Upper St. Clair High School Monday evening on the same field where Hopewell kept its title defense going with a walk-off RBI single and a 3-2 upset of No. 3 seed Mars.
*When Mr. High School Sports made his picks, he said the field in Class AA looked wide open this season, and so far the results have been in step with that theory. No. 9 seed Mohawk took down always-dangerous Burrell 2-0 in First Round action at Pullman Park last Friday morning before stunning top seed Shady Side Academy 7-6 in nine innings at Highlands High School Monday. Meanwhile, Riverside made short work of Freedom at Chippewa Park last Friday afternoon before blowing out No. 4 seed Deer Lakes Monday at Pullman Park. The Lancers had done the same to Steel Valley at North Allegheny High School last Friday to reach the Quarterfinals.
Laurel shut out No. 15 seed Washington at Pullman Park last Friday and returned there Monday evening to take care of No. 8 seed Greensburg Central Catholic, which had slipped past No. 9 seed South Fayette with a 2-1 victory in round one at Woodland Hills High School. Waynesburg will be meeting the Spartans in the Semifinals thanks to its offense, which picked up where it left off in the regular campaign with a big win over No. 13 seed Freeport at the Burkett Complex last Friday, then downing Frazier in blowout fashion at W & J Monday. Frazier had upended No. 6 seed Carlynton 6-5 in the First Round at W & J last Friday.
*While it has been determined that Serra will be the one to meet Chartiers-Houston in the Class A Semifinals, as previously mentioned, the other participants were determined in exciting fashion as well. No. 2 seed Neshannock had to hang on for a 7-6 victory over No. 7 seed Beth-Center at Chippewa Park Monday, while No. 3 seed California outlasted No. 6 seed Bentworth 14-7 at Washington & Jefferson, scoring seven times in the top of the seventh inning.
For more updates on the WPIAL Baseball Playoffs, be sure to check back with the Mr. High School Sports blog later this week!