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Previewing the 2013 high school baseball season

| Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Blackhawk's Brendan McKay pitches against Belle Vernon during the WPIAL Class AAA championship game Thursday May 31, 2012, at Consol Energy Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Blackhawk's Brendan McKay pitches against Belle Vernon during the WPIAL Class AAA championship game Thursday May 31, 2012, at Consol Energy Park.
South Park's Nick Yobbi pitches against Montour on Wednesday May 2, 2012.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
South Park's Nick Yobbi pitches against Montour on Wednesday May 2, 2012.

Class AAAA

Preseason top five

Team Last season's record

1. Seneca Valley 17-5

2. Bethel Park 18-3

3. North Allegheny 13-10

4. Hempfield 16-6

5. Plum 14-6

Section favorites

1. Seneca Valley: The Raiders return numerous starters, including infielder Sam Fragale, pitcher Jason Martin and pitcher Zack Spangler. North Allegheny returns a lot of players and should challenge, along with Butler.

2. Hempfield: The Spartans return almost their entire starting lineup, including pitchers Zack Martinelli and Greg Martin and junior outfielder Joey DeFloria. Norwin will be good again, led by junior shortstop J.J. Matijevic and senior infielder Jake Pribanic. Penn-Trafford, Kiski Area and Latrobe will battle for a playoff berth.

3. Plum and Central Catholic: The teams will battle for the top spot in the section. Plum is led by pitcher Zac Manuppelli, while first baseman M.P. Buckley and third baseman P.J. DeMeo lead the Vikings. Expect Franklin Regional to make some noise with numerous returning starters.

4. Pine-Richland: The Rams are led by pitcher Marcus Colella and outfielder Shea Sullivan. Shaler won't be far behind in a new section that includes Allderdice, Moon, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.

5. Bethel Park: The Black Hawks are led by pitchers Logan Corrigan and Tyler Grashoff. Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair also will battle for playoff spots.

Players to watch

Logan Corrigan, sr., P/1B, Bethel Park

=James Madison recruit can hit for power and average, and has a strong arm. He batted .370 last season.

Justin Dattilo, sr., C, North Allegheny

=Maryland-Eastern Shore recruit bats third in a potent Tigers offense. He batted .421 with 10 RBI in 2012.

Joey DeFloria, jr., CF, Hempfield

=He has been clocked with a 93 mph throw from the outfield and he's been timed 6.6 in the 60-yard dash. He batted .493 with five home runs and 27 RBI.

J.J. Matijevic, jr., SS, Norwin

=Arizona recruit batted .448 with six home runs and 35 RBI in 2012.

Zack Spangler, sr., P, Seneca Valley

=Kent State recruit batted .405 with a home run and 16 RBI last year.

Last season

For the second consecutive year, Seneca Valley came out on top in Section 1, which prepared the Raiders for a march to the WPIAL title. In the state tournament, Altoona eliminated both Seneca Valley and Mt. Lebanon.

Class AAA

Preseason top five

Team Last season's record

1. Belle Vernon 19-6

2. Hopewell 18-5

3. Blackhawk 22-3

4. Greensburg Salem 15-5

5. South Park 15-6

Section favorites

1. Hopewell: The Vikings return eight starters from a team that reached the WPIAL semifinals. Blackhawk will be strong behind left-handed pitcher Brendan McKay, while Montour, West Allegheny, Ambridge and Central Valley round out one of the strongest sections.

2. Greensburg Salem: The Golden Lions return three starters, including third baseman Max Ponzurik, from a team that tied Belle Vernon for the section title. Mt. Pleasant, Indiana, Derry and Yough will battle in a competitive section.

3. Chartiers Valley: Pitcher Jim Palmer, who was 5-2 in 2012, will be counted on to lead the Colts. South Fayette and McGuffey are next. Brennan Crimm batted .396 and hit two home runs for McGuffey in 2012.

4. Belle Vernon: The Leopards return eight starters from a team that was the WPIAL runner-up. Pitchers Dom Francia and Adam Ferita look to have big seasons for the Leopards. South Park and Thomas Jefferson are next. Pitcher Nick Yobbi will lead South Park, while TJ must replace its top two pitchers.

5. Mars: The Planets were beaten in the WPIAL quarterfinals, but they return numerous starters, including pitcher David Bednar and catcher Matt Eperesi. Look for Hampton, Kittanning and Valley to contend for playoff berths.

Players to watch

Dom Francia, sr., P/C, Belle Vernon

=He batted .380 with 19 RBI and had two wins on the mound last season.

Brendan McKay, jr., P, Blackhawk

=He was 9-1 with 81 innings pitched, 98 strikeouts and a 0.52 earned run average. He also had 10 doubles and hit .400 in 2012.

Max Persing, sr., P, Montour

=Pitt recruit was 5-1 with 61 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 48 23 innings in 2012.

Max Ponzurick, jr., 3B, Greensburg Salem

=One of the top hitters in the WPIAL, he hit .493 with 13 doubles, two home runs and 22 RBI.

Nick Yobbi, sr., P, South Park

=He had four victories and struck out 63 in 2012. He hit .333 with 13 RBI.

Last season

Blackhawk won three 1-0 playoff games en route to the WPIAL title. The Cougars defeated Belle Vernon, which was seeded seventh in the tournament. Thomas Jefferson edged Hopewell for third place. In the state tournament, Blackhawk knocked off Thomas Jefferson in the PIAA quarterfinals, then eventual PIAA champion West York beat Belle Vernon in the quarterfinals and Blackhawk in the state semifinals.

Class AA

Preseason top five

Team Last season's record

1. Riverside 22-6

2. Beaver 12-8

3. Brownsville 16-6

4. Neshannock 22-3

5. Greensburg Central Catholic 12-7

Section favorites

1. Freedom: Catcher Sam Beckey and shortstop Nick Schwab return for the Bulldogs, who finished third in the section. Seton-La Salle returns David Boehme. Also expected to challenge are South Side Beaver and Quaker Valley.

2. Brownsville: The Falcons had a strong team in 2012 and many of those players are back, including pitcher Tyler Spohn, who was 10-1 last year. Brownsville already defeated Mt. Pleasant this season. Washington, Fort Cherry and Charleroi will make this section strong.

3. Freeport: The Yellowjackets return pitchers Rob Miller and Ethan McCormick. Burrell, Deer Lakes and Apollo-Ridge could contend. The Bucs will rely on senior pitcher Nick Artman to stabilize their pitching staff and could contend.

4. Shady Side Academy: The Indians reached the semifinals but fell to eventual state champion Riverside. They return pitcher/third baseman Coleman Strohm, who throws a knuckleball. Greensburg Central Catholic has a new coach, but a veteran team returns, led by pitcher Corey Marshall. Steel Valley has a solid team and East Allegheny should be good.

5. Riverside: The Panthers have won consecutive PIAA titles and return third baseman Tyler Falk and pitcher Blaise McCarthy. Neshannock, the 2012 Class A champion, and Beaver, which dropped down from Class AAA, hope to give Riverside a run. Returning Class AA champion Ellwood City must replace nine starters.

Players to watch

Tyler Falk, sr., 3B, Riverside

=He batted .400 with four home runs and 30 RBI in 2012.

Blaise McCarthy, sr., P, Riverside

=The Division II Alderson-Broaddus recruit has been clocked in the 90s.

Josh Miller, sr., P, Beth-Center

=California (Pa) recruit is a good fielder who runs well. He had 21 steals in 2011.

Coleman Strohm, sr., P/3B, Shady Side Academy

=Lafayette recruit has a decent fastball and throws a knuckleball.

Brandon Ritchie, sr., P/OF, Laurel

=George Washington recruit has been clocked between 88 and 91 MPH.

Last season

Ellwood City ended up with the WPIAL title, beating Riverside, but the Panthers rebounded to win a second consecutive PIAA title. Ellwood City and Shady Side Academy were beaten in the opening round of the PIAA tournament, while Riverside took care of South Fayette in the second round.

Class A

Preseason top five

Team Last season's record

1. OLSH 18-7

2. Bishop Canevin 12-7

3. Carmichaels 10-10

4. Riverview 11-8

5. California 19-2

Section favorites

1. Carmichaels: The Mikes bring back numerous starters from a team that finished second to California in 2012. Outfielders Josh Mundell and Tommy Shoaf are two leaders back. California has holes to fill, but will be in the mix, along with Jefferson-Morgan.

2. Bishop Canevin: The Crusaders dropped from Class AA where they were 12-7 and a playoff participant. Serra, Frazier and Monessen should also compete.

3. Western Beaver: With Neshannock's move to Class AA, the Golden Beavers should emerge as the team to beat. Rochester and Union also should be in the mix.

4. Riverview: Senior pitcher Anthony Malky should carry the Raiders. He was 6-2 with an earned run average of 0.92. Springdale and North Catholic should contend.

5. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart: The Chargers are led by Slippery Rock recruit Preston Falascino, a shortstop and pitcher. Vincentian will challenge, along with Northgate and Sto-Rox.

Players to watch

Jim Dlugos, sr., 1B, Bishop Canevin

=A solid hitter who has great pop and plate discipline.

Preston Falascino, sr., SS/P, OLSH

=Slippery Rock recruit who is an outstanding pitcher and hitter. He had nine wins and 104 strikeouts in 2012.

Mike Luketich, jr., OF, California

=He hit .407 with 14 stolen bases and 14 RBI in 2012.

Phil Madonna, sr., C, Vincentian

=He hit .448 with 26 hits and 17 RBI. He also had three wins on the mound in 2012.

Anthony Malky, sr., P, Riverview

=Akron recruit was 6-2 with an earned run average of 0.92 in 2012. He also struck out 85.

Last season

Neshannock won the Class A title by defeating California. This year the Lancers are in Class AA. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart finished third by defeating Bentworth. California was bounced in the first round of the PIAA tournament, and Neshannock and OLSH fell in the second round.

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