By Matt Popchock


The Pirates’ off day was a busy one for WPIAL baseball on the field, whereas the WPIAL’s off day was a busy one for the Pirates.

In addition to playing the middle of a three-game set in Cincinnati, the Bucs got back to work in the 2012 MLB Draft, selecting three District 7 stars of past and present.

Valley third baseman Zarley Zalewski was chosen by the team in the 40th round after former Peters Township infielder Jimmy Rider was taken in the 26th, and former Mount Lebanon infielder Jordan Steranka in the 21st.

Zalewski (6’3″, 185 lbs.) finished fifth in the WPIAL with a .574 batting average and shared the district lead in home runs with eight, despite dressing for a Vikings squad that struggled to an 8-10 overall record and missed the playoffs. He also finished second in the WPIAL with 36 RBI and in the top ten in runs with 25 during the regular season.

Check out this recruiting video of Zalewski, courtesy of College Prospects of America:

Rider (5’10”, 170 lbs.), currently the starting second baseman at Kent State, knows a thing or two about patience. He helped the Golden Flashes win a 21-inning NCAA Tournament game over Kentucky by a 7-6 final, which marked the second-longest game in tournament history.

Check out his thoughts on the team’s recent play as it heads to Eugene, Oregon for Saturday’s Super Regionals:

He is Kent State’s captain, ranking second in program history in career assists, and the MAC’s all-time leader in hits. In 2007, as a junior at Peters, he hit .435 while driving in and scoring 31 runs apiece en route to both a WPIAL and PIAA Class AAAA title.

One of Rider’s teammates from that championship season, hard-hitting Jordan Jankowski (6’0″, 195 lbs.), signed with the Houston Astros as a right-handed pitcher out of Catawba College in North Carolina.

Steranka (6’2″, 210 lbs.) found similar success at Mount Lebanon before going on to Penn State. He was part of Lebo’s 2006 WPIAL title team, not to mention a three-time Post-Gazette All-Star, while collecting 16 career dingers, 20 doubles, and 80 RBI. He closed his career at Penn State by being named First Team All-Big Ten and Second Team All-American, and finishing second in program history in hits.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers once again dipped their toe into WPIAL waters by drafting Neshannock shortstop and district batting champion John Sansone in the 39th round. However, Sansone, a Florida State recruit, seems likely to honor his scholarship after hitting .660 for the Lancers during the 2012 regular campaign and leading them to back-to-back district titles.

In 2010 the Tigers drafted manager Jim Leyland’s son Patrick from Bishop Canevin, and the younger Leyland, a catcher, is currently batting .260 with ten RBI for the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps of the Midwest League.

Right now Sansone is more concerned with helping the Lancers in the PIAA Class A Quarterfinals when they face Elk County Catholic at the White Township Complex in Indiana, PA today at noon.

By the way, the St. Louis Cardinals, who ousted Leyland’s Tigers in the 2006 World Series, also drafted a WPIAL alumnus, former Seneca Valley pitcher Kyle Helisek. Helisek had been a starter at Villanova since he was a true freshman.

Speaking of pitchers, and of the state baseball playoffs, a great rematch will take place between a WPIAL champion and another great pitcher who probably could have been drafted.

Pitt recruit Greg Schneider will lead Thomas Jefferson against Blackhawk and sophomore ace Brendan McKay in a PIAA Class AAA Quarterfinal affair at North Allegheny High School tonight at 7:00.

The Cougars previously beat the Jaguars, 1-0, in an extra-inning WPIAL Semifinal game at that same venue.

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)