By Matt Popchock
State championship events of any kind can be unpredictable because, manifestly, they’re kids playing a game, and kids are unpredictable. Sure enough, those who saw the PIAA Baseball and Softball Championships play out on Penn State’s main campus Friday saw that which no one has before.
Riverside edged Pine Grove, 5-4, in the Class AA Baseball Final for an unprecedented fourth Commonwealth crown, also marking the second time manager Dan Oliastro has guided the Panthers to back-to-back PIAA titles. Neshannock, an equally young group led by skipper Tracy Kimmel, ousted Warrior Run, 4-3, in eight innings to capture the first PIAA Class AA softball title for the Lancers.
Coming off a WPIAL silver medal, Riverside earned more gold despite dressing just two seniors, including winning pitcher Rob Hardy. Neshannock, which needed to defeat California in a WPIAL consolation game to survive, dressed one: its own winning pitcher, Amanda Furst.
Although the Lancers lost an early 2-0 lead, Furst fought well against red-hot counterpart Taylor Parker frame by frame through the top of the eighth. Sophomore outfielder Madison Altmyer led off the bottom half by driving an unreachable ball down the right field line that left her standing on third. When a subsequent Parker fastball went wild, Altmyer, with a second or two to spare, provided the golden run on a feet-first slide.
It was a tough end to a historic campaign for the first-time PIAA Championship participants, and initially, it looked as though Riverside’s baseball season might also end unhappily in Happy Valley. Sophomore Blaise McCarty, who very efficiently hurled his team through the end of Monday’s decisive semifinal win, was pulled after just 1 2/3 innings with Pine Grove in front 3-0. But Hardy, who lasted 5 1/3 that day, matched that Friday, allowing just one earned run on two hits while striking out seven.
Trailing 3-1 midway through regulation, the Panthers tied the game in the bottom of the fourth when Anthony Meneice and Dylan Jones continued their recent success with successive RBI. First baseman Tyler Falk, another key contributor throughout the state tournament, then brought both home with a bases-clearing triple that proved to be the difference.
In the rest of the PIAA Baseball Championships, District 6 champion Bishop McCort slammed District 4 champion Montgomery, 14-2, in a five-inning, mercy-rule Class A Final at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park; West York, which beat Blackhawk Monday, upset District 3 rival Lampeter-Strasburg, 9-6, for the Class AAA title; and District 12 champ LaSalle defeated District 1 runner-up Council Rock South, 3-1, in the Quad-A contest.
Meanwhile, in the other PIAA Softball Championships, District 5 champion Fannett Metal eked out a 1-0 win over District 4 runner-up Southern Columbia at Nittany Lion Park for the Class A crown; District 3 wild card Big Spring, which beat Montour Monday, surprised District 2 champ Valley View, 2-1, in the Class AAA game; and upstart Central Bucks South outlasted District 1 rival Bishop Shanahan, 1-0, in a nine-inning affair.
Bishop Shanahan had defeated PIAA playoff newcomer Canon-McMillan in the semifinals for the right to play for the Quad-A title.
(Special thanks to Dan Stefano of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for his contributions to this post.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)