PIAA championship completes Latrobe's season checklist
Latrobe baseball coach Matt Basciano had a checklist of achievements hanging in the locker room at the high school.
There was one check missing until Thursday. Now, the list is complete after Latrobe won its first PIAA title with a 7-0 victory against District 11 champion Whitehall in the Class 5A game.
About the only thing the Wildcats did not do during their dream season was celebrate the final out of the championship on the field at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Mother Nature spoiled that with a drenching rain that lasted from 8 p.m. to about 3 a.m.
When the PIAA suspended the game at 8:13 p.m. in the top of the sixth inning, Latrobe was leading 7-0 and had runners on first and second.
After the PIAA, relying on radar, decided to end the game at 9:37 because the rain was not stopping, the public address announcer told fans from both schools the game was called and was official because five innings were played.
Some Latrobe players, to the chagrin of the Penn State grounds crew, celebrated by doing belly flops on the tarp covering the field.
For the players, Basciano and his staff, and the Wildcats' fans and school officials, it was time to celebrate a historic season. Not even Mother Nature could dampen the moment.
As Basciano watched his players receive the PIAA trophy, tears flowed down his cheeks. His players turned and presented the trophy to him, and Basciano proudly lifted it above his head.
And like the Stanley Cup, Basciano told his players to pass it around among their teammates.
“This is a special moment,” he said. “We talked about playing a complete game and, maybe we're a little picky on them, but this was it: from pitching to defense and then the timely hitting. I can't be more proud of them. If this wasn't a complete game, it was pretty darn close.”
The Wildcats had nine hits — Ryan Augustine's hit in the sixth inning didn't count. They did not commit an error, and pitcher Jared Kollar allowed only three hits and two walks with six strikeouts.
“Our goal was to get on them early and, with a guy like Jared on the mound, getting those two runs took the sails out of them,” Ryan Shawley said. “I brought my WPIAL gold medal here, and to get two golds to end my high school career is a dream come true and something I'll never forget.”
The Wildcats eclipsed marks set by the 1985 team, which was a runner-up to Bethel Park in the WPIAL and then lost to Bethel Park again in the PIAA semifinals at Shippensburg. That team lost the third-place game to Conestoga, 3-2.
Latrobe (24-2) is the first Westmoreland County team to reach the PIAA championship since Burrell in 2008. The Bucs fell to Loyalsock, 8-3. Burrell also lost to Phoenixville, 4-1, in 2001.
The Wildcats are only the second team from the county to win a state title. Greensburg Central Catholic won the 2002 Class A title by defeating Schuylkill Haven, 4-1.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” Basciano said. “I'm so proud of these guys. We didn't allow them to play their game by jumping on them early and took them out of their game plan.”
Zach Kokoska, the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year, got Latrobe started with an RBI single in the first inning.
He talked about how everyone stepped up during the season.
“I told myself I was going to do everything I could to help this team,” the Virginia Tech recruit said. “Everyone else performed great on the team, too. It was a total team-effort win, and I couldn't be more proud of them.
“This is a surreal feeling. We're going down in Latrobe as the best team ever, which is insane. There are no words on how proud we are of ourselves. We didn't let adversity stop us.”
Latrobe trailed Manheim Central, 4-1, in the opening round of the state playoffs and was down to its final out before rallying for a 5-4 victory. Kokoska said wins such as that propelled Latrobe.
“Once we won that Manheim Central game, we knew we could win it all,” Kokoska said. “We never quit. That was our mentality.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.