By Matt Popchock
Pirates reliever Joel Hanrahan spent some time in Washington. Seneca Valley ace Matt Smith spent some time in Washington Wednesday night, and he’ll be spending more in the fall when he pitches for Georgetown.
It’s hard to tell whose heart palpitations grew strongest: those watching “The Hammer” nail down another save at PNC Park, or those watching Smith try to avoid getting pounded by the heart of the Mount Lebanon order.
In the end, Smith, like his fellow All-Star, showed mettle. His reward?
A medal. Again.
This time it was the Raiders (18-4), the No. 3 seed in the WPIAL tournament, who donned the bulls-eye, but a 5-3 win over the surprising Blue Devils (14-9) in the Class AAAA Baseball Final at CONSOL Energy Park proved they’re no easy target. Smith enabled Seneca Valley to join 2007-08 Peters Township as the second Quad-A club to repeat as district champs since WPIAL baseball expanded to four classifications in 2005.
Smith topped his title game effort of a year ago with ten strikeouts and just two walks along with two hit batsmen and seven scattered hits. After owning Upper St. Clair and enduring a late power surge by Pittsburgh Central Catholic, the future Hoya, with dogged determination, refused to let this one slip away.
Hard-hitting Luke Hagy opened the evening with a single to center field, and he reached third on a double steal following a full-count walk to Ian Happ with only one away. Smith ended the first inning by inducing a Pat Goff pop-up to second and fanning Chris Girvin.
It didn’t get much easier in the second. Brad Bekampis continued his solid postseason with a leadoff single of his own, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, then headed to third on a questionable balk that was deliberated by both corner umpires and argued unsuccessfully by veteran manager Eric Semega. Smith struck out Jack Faett and Cory Wuenschill swinging to leave Bekampis there.
He now has over 80 of those entering the state playoffs, and his last one was undoubtedly his biggest. Girvin cut Seneca Valley’s lead to 2-1 in the sixth with an RBI double, and he went to third on a ground out to the left side. But Smith got Mount Lebanon reliever Zack Bahm to whiff at a 1-2 curve ball to kill that threat.
Not that Smith didn’t need a little help. It appeared the Raiders had this one safely in tow as they carried a 5-1 advantage into the top of the seventh, but, in a sharp reversal of karma, Faett singled and Wuenschill promptly tripled before Hagy hit a towering fly ball into foul territory. Connor Coward raced to the deepest corner of left field and disappeared from sight before making an impressive catch.
Still, that play turned into a sacrifice fly for the future Ivy Leaguer, and Happ reached for the fourth time in as many at-bats, thanks to the second of back-to-back walks on 3-1 pitches. However, Happ, a shortstop and University of Cincinnati recruit, may have to wait till Big East conference play to exact revenge on Smith, and he has his counterpart to thank for that.
Goff drove Smith’s first offering right up the middle, but Zach Creedon, ranging to his left, fielded it cleanly, stepped on second, and got off a stumbling throw to first just in the nick of time for a nifty game-ending double play.
It’s a game Mount Lebanon will likely remember for the “wouldas,” the “couldas,” and the “shouldas.” Seneca Valley and Smith, one of the program’s all-time greats, will remember it for the “dids” and the “didn’ts.”
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)