By Matt Popchock

Okay, okay, Mr. High School Sports is the first to admit it…he’s in over his head. A couple days ago, he was all set to go with his “Diamond Dozen” for the 2011 WPIAL baseball and softball regular season, celebrating the top 12 performers in the past regular campaign. But something was missing.

That’s when our friends at the Post-Gazette came out with their annual all-star teams. Inspired by the fine work done by their scholastic sports department, as always, Mr. High School Sports revised his “Diamond Dozen” and expanded his horizons to include some players who maybe didn’t get as much of our attention during the regular season as they should have.

He hopes he made the right decisions here, and he encourages those who disagree to hit him up on Twitter, or leave a comment below. But in the meantime, here is, in no particular order, Mr. High School Sports’ final Diamond Dozen:

Justin Bianco, Peters Twp. – Finished second in Class AAAA with a .559 batting average, putting him among the WPIAL’s top 15. Finished second on the team, tied for third in Quad-A, and tied for seventh in the district with 26 RBI. Indians won Sec. 3 and entered WPIAL Playoffs as the number one seed in Quad-A, having not lost to any district opponents.

John Sansone, Neshannock – Won the WPIAL regular season batting title with a .680 average. Fifth in the district during the regular campaign with five home runs. Led his team with 22 RBI, finishing in the WPIAL’s top 15 in that category. Second in Class A and third in the WPIAL with 28 runs scored. Helped Lancers win Sec. 3 crown and earn No. 2 playoff seed prior to capturing district gold.

Chris Miller, Serra Catholic – Finished second in the WPIAL in hitting with a .674 average. Provided invaluable run support for ace pitcher Alain Girman with four home runs and a team-leading 22 RBI. Scored 25 times, ranking fifth in Class A and tying him for fifth in the WPIAL. Eagles won Sec. 2, tied for best record in Class A, earned No. 1 playoff seed.

Ben Hartz, Shady Side Academy – Finished third in Class AA and eighth in the WPIAL with a .581 batting average. One of the most complete players in the district, he finished third in the classification and tied for third in the WPIAL with seven home runs, second in Class AA and fifth in the WPIAL with 28 RBI, and went 5-1 with 62 strikeouts, which was fourth in Class AA and seventh in the district. Pitched SSA to No. 1 playoff seed and Sec. 4 title.

Dan Altavilla, Elizabeth Forward – Aside from Alain Girman, perhaps the WPIAL’s most dominant pitcher during the regular campaign, and another very complete player. Tied Christian Kerns of Ellwood City as the winningest pitcher in the district with an 8-0 mark. Led the WPIAL with 90 strikeouts, and led his team with a .453 batting average. Second on the team, and tied for fourth in the district with six home runs. Drove in 22 runs, tied for fourth in the WPIAL with 26 RBI. Led Warriors to perfect regular season record.

Max McDowell, Norwin – Top hitter in one of the most lethal offenses in the district. Led Class AAAA and finished tenth in the WPIAL with a .575 batting average, and hit four home runs. Second in Quad-A and tied for third in the district with 28 runs scored. Knights won Sec. 2 title, finishing with top win percentage in Quad-A, and No. 2 seed in WPIAL Playoffs.

Nicole Sleith, Yough – Tied for sixth in the WPIAL during the regular campaign with a 14-1 record, which led Class AAA. Second in the district with 221 strikeouts. Pitched 13 shutouts during the regular season, including seven in a row at one point. Cougars won Sec. 4 co-championship and earned No. 4 seed in WPIAL Playoffs.

Caitlin Nealer, Valley – Finished the regular season with an 11-1 record, fifth-best in Class AAA. Third in Class AAA and fifth in the district with 146 strikeouts. Six shutouts during the regular season, and only nine runs allowed. Vikings won Sec. 5 championship and earned No. 3 seed in WPIAL Playoffs.

Lauren Hackett, Shaler – One of the premier hitters in the WPIAL, she entered the playoffs with an average over .600 and a slugging percentage over 1.000. With her bat in the lineup, the Titans averaged 6.56 runs per game and won their first 14 games en route to the Sec. 3 championship and No. 1 Quad-A playoff seed. Caught for Sydney Smyers, one of the top pitchers in the district.

Kiersten Conwell, Chartiers-Houston – Defined the word “dominant” while pitching the Buccaneers to a Sec. 1 championship, the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class A Playoffs, and the best win percentage in the district. Allowed only four runs to District 7 competition all year, only three of them earned. Ended regular season with six shutouts in a row. Led WPIAL with 16-0 regular season record, sixth in strikeouts with 139.

Kiersten Manor, New Brighton – Led Class AA and finished fourth in the WPIAL with a 15-5 regular season mark. Led the WPIAL with 260 strikeouts as a sophomore. Six regular-season shutouts, posted an ERA under 2.00. Pitched four no-hitters while pitching the Lions to the Sec. 5 championship and No. 5 playoff seed.

Alexa Larkin, Latrobe – Didn’t put up the numbers you’d expect from an elite pitcher because she shared the circle with Rebecca Taylor, who also pitched exceptionally, but was efficient and pitched well out of jams. Ended regular season 8-1 with 111 strikeouts, second-most in Quad-A. Wildcats earned No. 5 playoff seed, never more than three runs allowed to any Sec. 1 opponent.

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