By Matt Popchock

Adversity is one of the things that determines a champion. Those who have dealt with it can thrive in the playoffs, while those who haven’t can struggle, regardless of talent.

Neshannock pitcher Alex Strittmatter and his teammates hadn’t faced much adversity during their 19-game win streak entering Tuesday, nor did Peters Township pitcher Rick Minteer during his team’s 16 consecutive wins.

Nevertheless, one fared remarkably better than the other.

Strittmatter avenged last year’s championship loss by tossing a two-hit gem in Neshannock’s 11-1 mercy-rule win over Chartiers-Houston in six innings in the WPIAL Class A Baseball Final at CONSOL Energy Park in Washington.

Both Chartiers-Houston (12-7) hits came in the top of the first inning after fellow pitcher Dylan Pounds reached on a fly ball that should have been caught. Jake Whitfield singled, and Scott Betts drove in Pounds to give the Buccaneers a short-lived 1-0 lead.

Chris Tsangaris quickly evened things for the Lancers with a leadoff single in the bottom of the first, stole second, then broke for third and scored on a throwing error.

Neshannock (21-1) would eventually score eight runs over the next three innings, and Strittmatter got into a rhythm, striking out seven without issuing a walk. He retired the last ten Bucs he faced.

Pounds took the loss and would only last 2 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on four hits with two walks and a pair of hit batsmen, as the Lancers pounded out three doubles in the third inning to break the dam.

Joe Cioffi led off with one, and after an intentional walk to WPIAL regular season batting champ John Sansone, Anthony Van Eman cleared the bases with his one-out double to give Neshannock all the insurance it needed. Ryan Giangiuli drove in Van Eman from third with two out to give the Lancers a 5-1 lead.

Cioffi went 3-for-3 with two RBI and scored twice, as did Sansone, who finished 2-for-4 with a run-scoring single. Van Eman went 2-for-4 with a run scored.

This was the Lancers’ fourth WPIAL baseball title in program history, their third as a member of Class A, and first since 2004. In their first state playoff game they will face the District 6 runner-up, while Chartiers-Houston will face the winner of that game between Bishop Carroll and Bishop McCort in the state playoffs.

Meanwhile, Minteer probably can’t wait for states, because it’ll give he and his mates a chance to redeem themselves. Sec. 1-AAAA champ Seneca Valley (16-3) belted two early home runs off the Peters Township junior–oddly enough, to the same spot–en route to a surprisingly easy 15-4 victory over the top-seeded Indians (19-2) in the WPIAL Class AAAA Baseball Final at CONSOL Energy Park.

Peters Township took a 1-0 lead into the top of the second thanks to a two-out single by Austin Hancock that plated Justin Miller before the Raiders opened the floodgates. Jack Graham had struck out and Kyle Gorniak had been caught stealing, but Austin Bream kept the inning alive with his single and scored on Ben Murray’s single. On Minteer’s 2-2 pitch to team hitting leader Christian Durbin, Durbin poked a towering fly ball down the left field line that cleared the 325′ sign and snuck inside the pole to give Seneca Valley a 4-1 advantage.

A sensational diving catch in right field by second baseman Michael Chamberlain minimized the damage, but alas Chamberlain was just delaying the deluge. With one out in the third and nobody on, just as quickly as Peters had rallied to tie the game, Graham drove a ball deep down the left field line that found virtually the same spot inside the pole to make it 5-4 and bring Seneca’s dugout back to its feet.

Murray led off the top of the fourth with a walk and would eventually score the first of three unearned runs by the Raiders in that inning, which would be Minteer’s last. The senior gave up seven hits and struck out four while walking three.

In contrast, Seneca Valley junior Matt Smith continued the same impressive work he has displayed throughout the 2011 postseason. Smith overcame his own shaky start and ended the game by tossing five consecutive scoreless innings and fanning ten Indians to pick up his third playoff win.

Andrew Erenberg had driven in a run with a single and tied the game 4-4 when he scored on a passed ball, while Brady Sheetz had singled in Chamberlain to provide the third run for the Indians, who will face Central Mountain of District 6 to open the state playoffs.

Meanwhile, Gorniak would collect three hits and Graham a pair, while Sam Fragale would later double in a run and tack on a two-run triple for the Raiders, who will open the state playoffs against City League champion Allderdice, who won that crown last week with a 4-0 win over Brashear at PNC Park.

Seneca Valley erased a 17-year WPIAL championship drought with the win, having earned its only other baseball title in ’94. Since the district expanded to four classifications for baseball in 2005, no Quad-A team has won more than two WPIAL titles.


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