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Blackhawk, TJ aces set for state semifinal showdown

| Thursday, June 7, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Blackhawk's Brendan McKay pitches to Belle Vernon's Dom Francia during the WPIAL Class AAA championship game Thursday May 31, 2012 at CONSOL Energy Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The first matchup featured two of the best pitching performances of the year. Maybe the most costly error, too.

On May 21, the expected pitchers' duel between Blackhawk's Brendan McKay and Thomas Jefferson's Greg Schneider came to pass in the WPIAL semifinals: Through eight scoreless innings, the former was throwing a two-hitter and the latter a no-hitter.

Then, one of the stars blinked.

Schneider, voted the Class AAA Pitcher of the Year by WPIAL coaches, gave up a single to Brandon Mansell in the top of the ninth. In the next at-bat, the senior ace slipped as he fielded Brendan Kearney's bunt before making a high and hasty throw to first base.

The ball skirted into right field. Mansell scored from first. Blackhawk 1, Thomas Jefferson 0.

“In a big game like that, to let the team down really hurt,” said Schneider, a Pitt recruit. “I really haven't stopped thinking about it.”

Now he has a chance for redemption.

A rematch of last month's classic is set for today in the PIAA quarterfinals at 7 p.m. at North Allegheny — the same site as the previous meeting.

“We knew we'd hopefully see them down the road,” said Jaguars coach Rich Krivanek, whose team rebounded to defeat Hopewell in the WPIAL consolation game and Warren in Monday's PIAA first round. “From our standpoint, we feel like if Greg doesn't slip, we don't lose that game. Three inches lower on the throw, and that's an out.”

The Cougars (21-2), who went on to defeat Belle Vernon in the WPIAL title game and had a first-round bye in the state tournament, aren't surprised to see this matchup again, either.

“They've got a great team,” coach Bob Amalia said. “Schneider is as good as they come in high school. ... He throws about 88, 89 (mph). His slider is 82, 83, and that's faster than a lot of kids' fastballs.”

He's got control to match the velocity, too, resulting in 129 strikeouts, an 0.24 ERA and nine wins. Schneider's .521 batting average and 29 RBI also lead the Jaguars (17-5), though he went 0 for 3 against McKay, a sophomore, in the WPIAL semifinals.

“(McKay) was a great pitcher, probably the best one we've seen all year,” Schneider said. “He hits corners, he hits spots and he doesn't leave anything over the middle.”

And he doesn't shrink in the spotlight. McKay is 8-1 with a 0.47 ERA and boasts a .425 batting average, but his maturity might be what impresses his coach most.

“Not only does he have God-given ability, but his mindset is great,” Amalia said. “And that makes a difference for a kid to go from good to great.”

Dan Stefano is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dstefano@tribweb.com or 412-380-5697.

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