Latrobe baseball team eyes one more first in 'dream' season
There is no doubt the 2017 Latrobe baseball team will go down as the best in school history after winning the WPIAL Class 5A title and advancing to the PIAA championship game.
Now the Wildcats will try to add one more piece of hardware to the trophy case.
Latrobe (23-2), winner of 16 consecutive games, will play for the state title against District 11 champion Whitehall (13-12) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Penn State's Lubrano Field. The Zephyrs are riding a six-game win streak.
“This is phenomenal,” Latrobe's Ryan Shawley said after pitching his team to a 2-1 victory in the PIAA semifinals against Springfield. “This is a dream come true. We're the first team to make states. We're such a great group.”
The Wildcats' remarkable season has been marked by amazing finishes in the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs. They surpassed the record of the 1985 team, which lost to Bethel Park in the WPIAL finals and again in the PIAA semifinals. That team ended up fourth in the state.
“This is why we're such a great team,” Latrobe coach Matt Basciano said. “If someone slumps, someone else steps up and I can't say enough about these guys on how special they are.
“They're such a close-knit and hard-working group. Whatever it takes, they're going to get it done and go after it. That's why we're playing Thursday.”
Latrobe rallied in the seventh inning to knock off Montour in the WPIAL quarterfinals. It rallied to edge Chartiers Valley late in the semifinals.
But no one will forget the unbelievable rally against Manheim Central in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. The Wildcats trailed 4-0 in the sixth inning and scored their first run on two errors.
Then in the seventh inning, with a runner on and two outs, the Wildcats completed the comeback. Tyler Roble was hit by a pitch, and Zach Kokoska, the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year, was intentionally walked with runners on first and second, putting the tying run on first.
It was the second time in the playoffs an opposing coach decided to intentionally walk Kokoska with a runner on first. Montour did the same thing, and it cost them, too.
“This group never gives up,” Basciano said. “That's their mentality. They've done it all season.”
The Manheim Central pitcher then uncorked a wild pitch to score Antonio Noble. Griffin Clark smacked a two-run single to tie the game, and Ryan Augustine's single won it, 5-4.
Basciano said the team has lofty aspirations every season. But this team was different.
“We knew going in we'd be pretty good if our pitching held together the way it has in the past and with our defense,” Basciano said. “We set goals at the beginning of the year. It's always states and making a run at it and getting to Penn State. I forget when we started it, but we have a checklist that pretty much covered our entire locker room.
“Now we get to check off making it to state finals. There is one last check that we'd like to put down there, finishing and winning states.”
Latrobe will start senior Jared Kollar in the title game. He and Shawley have been the team's top pitchers all season. Basciano described them as 1A and 1B.
“We have confidence in whoever we throw out there,” Basciano said. “When we play good defense behind them, they have confidence in their pitches.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review sports writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.