Pitching depth strong as North Allegheny aims to defend title
It's good for a coach to have options.
Andy Haddix, North Allegheny's baseball coach, justifiably could pick any of his pitchers to start when the Tigers defend their AAAA WPIAL title in the playoffs.
Senior Mitch Machi, the starting pitcher in their championship win last June, logged 28 innings with a 1.75 ERA during the regular season, tops out at 91 miles per hour and has three off-speed pitches in his repertoire.
However, Machi also had a poor outing in his last regular-season start. He threw 40 pitches in one and two-third innings and gave up five runs, four of them earned, in an 8-6 loss to North Hills.
“They came out swinging and did what they're supposed to do and hit well,” Machi, 18, of Franklin Park said. “My team did a very good job behind me, and I had some mental errors. I was trying to do it all myself, but I have to trust them more and let them make the plays.”
Haddix, 43, of Scott Township said the outing was a good learning experience for Machi.
“There's days you don't have your best stuff,” Haddix said. “He's had great outings for us for the most part, and you just tell him it's a part of baseball. It wasn't all on him. We should have made some plays behind him. We have a lot of confidence him, definitely.”
Defense also is paramount to a team's success in the playoffs. In each of the last three AAAA WPIAL championship games, the team that committed more errors lost.
Senior Tyler Saundry has earned four saves as North Allegheny's closer during the regular season and said he hopes team defense will help him build on that total. He pitched 23 regular-season innings with a 1.21 ERA.
“Growing up, I was a pitch-to-contact guy,” said Saundry, 18, of Marshall Township. “As I've gotten older, I've thrown harder, but I come right at you.I want them to beat me. I won't pitch around anyone.”
Senior Jason Monper threw 14.33 regular-season innings with a 0.48 ERA after an impressive junior campaign that included nine scoreless innings in the Tigers' final game last year.
The Tigers also have a plethora of strong young arms at Haddix's disposal. Juniors Blaise Smiley and Nick Gross have combined for 20 regular-season innings pitched and a 1.75 ERA.
Sophomores Jake Fischbaugh, Trevor Smith and Jon Dignazio have combined for 39 innings pitched and a 1.61 ERA.
The left-handed Dignazio, 16, of Marshall, came back from a November injury to his left ankle to pitch for the Tigers.
Despite a tough start at the beginning of the season, the Tigers tied with Butler for the Section 1-AAAA title. Jon Dignazio was the winning starting pitcher for the game against Butler that resulted in the tie, and Saundry was the closer.
“I'm very excited to hopefully make a good run,” Dignazio said about the playoffs. “As a pitcher, the (pitching) coach (Todd Schiffhauer) tries make calls to use the infield and use weaknesses against the batter. Usually, it works well, and that's how we've been successful.”
Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.