Pine-Richland takes leg up in baseball standings over Shaler
There may not have been two hotter teams in WPIAL baseball heading into last week than Shaler and Pine-Richland.
The Rams (4-1, 8-1 Section 4-AAAA) and Titans (4-1, 6-5) were coming in on winning streaks, and with the section lead on the line, both teams came in guns blazing.
Pine-Richland senior pitcher Marcus Colella squared off against Shaler sophomore Jake Potock. Both pitchers brought their “A” game, but an early run scored by David Laylock off a deep fly ball by Shea Sullivan gave the Rams a slim advantage after one inning.
Potock locked down after that, but the Rams managed to load the bases in the bottom of the fourth. Potock hit Laylock with a pitch, and that was followed up by a Daane Berezo single and a bunt by Shane Heim that he beat out to first base to load the bases.
Potock got the Titans out of that jam by striking out the next three Pine-Richland batters to keep the game close.
The Titans were not as fortunate in the fifth. With two outs and nobody on, the Rams got to work. Heim and Sullivan notched back-to-back singles, setting the stage for Jack Hudak to knock in a run, and Jamie Switalski followed Hudak with a pair of runs batted in before J.T. Riley added another.
“We wanted to give Marcus some breathing room,” Riley said.
It looked for a bit like the Rams were going to need the cushion. Shaler's Justin Mazza singled in the top of the fourth, and when Andrew Mueller crushed a shot to the outfield, Mazza headed home. Joey Professori made the tag at home to keep the Rams in front.
Pine-Richland robbed the Titans again in the top of the fifth when Shaler's Alec McElroy drove a ball back near the warning track in the vicinity of Heim, the Rams center fielder.
“I was playing normal depth, and I saw it come off his bat and I honestly didn't think I was going to get there,” Heim said. “I went for it, laid out — full extension — and got it with the top of my glove.”
Heim's grab essentially silenced the Titans' effort for the rest of the afternoon.
Shaler coach Brian Junker was pleased with his pitching effort from Potock (five strikeouts) and Matt Carter (two strikeouts).
“We came out with no energy and were not ready to play,” Junker said. “I don't know why that was.
“I tell the kids they can control two things: attitude and energy. Jake did a good job pitching, but when you don't have energy, nothing good can happen and any chance we had to rally was snuffed out by mistakes.”
Pine-Richland coach Kurt Wolfe, on the other hand, got contributions from every member of his team. Although there was not one superstar performance, every little bit chipped in for the win.
“I don't know if anyone was hotter than Shaler coming in,” Wolfe said. “This was big, that's what I told my coaches after the game. This tied us for the section lead.
“It started off as a pitchers' duel, and J.T. came through with a huge hit and Shane had that unbelievable catch.”
Wolfe has been able to keep a good number of rest days in place for his pitchers, and Colella looked sharp as a result.
“I was throwing for strikes,” he said. “Shane made that catch, and David made some throws to help the team a lot. Getting that guy out at home was big, because we were able to get out of the inning without allowing any runs. We just have to keep up the energy and keep the momentum going.”
The win was a big one, but Riley put it all in perspective.
“We have to stay focused, and that starts in practice,” Riley said, “This was one of our top games this season, but it does not mean anything yet … our goal is WPIALs and then (to) go far in states.”
With the second half of section play beginning this week, Wolfe wants to see the defense remain solid and the hitting stay timely.
“You have to do that to put yourself in a position to make the playoffs,” Wolfe said.
For Shaler, Junker said that in a weird way, this loss may have been what his team needed to reevaluate itself.
“We are still in a good spot, but a win today could have given us a stranglehold on the division,” Junker said. “We have to come out with better attitudes and more energy.”
Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.