Blackhawk holds on to capture 2nd WPIAL title
In a span of about 15 minutes, Brendan McKay went from bidding for a perfect game to needing the perfect play.
After retiring the first 17 Belle Vernon batters he faced in the WPIAL Class AAA baseball championship Thursday at Consol Energy Park, Blackhawk's sophomore ace loaded the bases on two walks and a hit while his Cougars clung to a 1-0 lead with one out in the bottom of the seventh.
Time for a conference.
“Pretty much everyone in the infield, they talked to me, calmed me down,” McKay said. “They were just saying if it comes to the infielders, throw it home, and we'll go from there.”
Not a bad plan.
Following the meeting, McKay fielded a lightly hit ball by Matt Callaway in front of the mound and tossed the ball to catcher Matt Emge for the force out at home before Emge threw a dart to first base to complete the 1-2-3 double play and clinch Blackhawk's second title.
“I was proud of Matt Emge because he had a rough day at the plate,” Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said of his Ohio State-bound backstop, who went 0 for 4. “He's playing 90 percent, if that, because he has a bad ankle. ... I can't say enough. He threw a laser, and there's not many high school catchers that can catch the ball and gun the guy out like that.”
The throw preserved Blackhawk's third 1-0 win in a row. Second baseman Joe Lopez's fourth-inning single to right-center drove home Tyler Craig for the lone run in a game that included the Cougars (21-2) stranding seven runners.
“I think we'll break out and hit the ball,” said Amalia, whose team has a bye in the first round of the state playoffs next week. “We needed that one big hit. Sometimes I worry about our kids being so used to the pitchers going out and throwing zeroes on the board, and they aren't focused in.”
McKay, who had success locating his fastball to go with his typically solid breaking ball, fanned 11 in the final and finished with a two-hitter.
“I was getting there,” McKay said. “I was sweating a little bit, my nerves were pumping and I was a little anxious.”
In the end, Belle Vernon coach Dan Palm said McKay was “the best pitcher we've seen all year.” But the Leopards (18-5) received a strong start from their sophomore pitcher, Dylan Pietratoni, who yielded six hits and stymied some of the Cougars' top hitters.
“That's a good team. For him to hold them to one run, that's good in itself,” said Palm, whose Leopards meet District 6 Punxsutawney in Monday's first round. “And you know what? For them to win a championship, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, every playoff game is incredible.”
Dan Stefano is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5697.