Steel Valley wins 1st section title in 19 years
Brandon Donovan knew it wasn't something he should be thinking about, but couldn't help himself.
So, Donovan sought out catcher Patrick Jobes after Steel Valley extended its lead to six runs over Shady Side Academy in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Section 4-AAA finale in order to go over some important details concerning the final inning.
“I told him if I strike out the last batter to just come out and jump on me and hug me,” Donovan said.
And, who can blame Donovan for his premature excitement? Winning a section title doesn't come around very often, and no team knows that better than Steel Valley.
Steel Valley claimed its first section title in 19 years with a 10-4 win over Shady Side Academy in front of a boisterous West Field crowd, and yes, Jobes raced to the mound to hug Donovan.
“It wasn't a strikeout, but he still did it,” Donovan said.
It was the Ironmen's first section title since 1994 and closed out one of the more unlikely success stories in the WPIAL this year.
“Did we expect to win the section? Absolutely not,” Steel Valley coach Tim Vickers said.
After the graduation of four key starters and with ace Derek Morrison unable to pitch because of offseason Tommy John surgery, a section title wasn't even in the conversation.
“We lost a lot of seniors, and I was just hoping that we were going to be able to compete to make in the playoffs,” Morrison said.
Steel Valley (11-5, 10-2), winner of six of its past seven games, will get more than that. The Ironmen likely will grab a top-six seed when the Class AA playoffs are announced on Friday.
“We knew we were the underdog coming into the season, and we wanted to show everybody up,” Donovan said. “And look what we've done.”
Donovan picked up the complete-game win, allowing seven hits and only one earned run while striking out 10. He saved his best for the last inning.
After loading the bases with nobody out and a visit from Vickers, Donovan forced Jake Kleindl to foul out; got Evan Eisner swinging; and got Eric Larkin to fly out to left to end the game.
“I had no plans to take him out when I went out there,” Vickers said. “I went out there to let them calm down and let them know I have faith in them. Sometimes you just want the kids to reset.”
Steel Valley banged around Shady Side Academy (12-5, 9-3) starter Paul McCullough for six hits and seven runs in six innings.
Morrison, who is relegated to designated hitter, went 2 for 3 with a triple, double, and two RBI; Jesse Cantley tripled and Andrew Chuba, Sam Ligeros, Donovan, Matt Hoesch and Ryan Wissinger all knocked in runs.
“You didn't see any nerves out of this group at all,” Vickers said. “They just had an incredible amount of focus.”
Steel Valley found itself down 2-1 heading into the bottom of the second when the Ironmen exploded for five runs. A bad-hop double by Chuba scored one, Ligeros knocked in another with a single and a throwing error on SSA shortstop Chuckie Scales scored two more to give the Ironmen a 6-2 lead.
“That was exactly what we needed,” Vickers said. “With Donovan on the hill, when you get five in an inning, you're figuring that's all you needed.”
Two unearned runs in the fourth got Shady Side Academy within two at 6-4, but the Ironmen answered back in the fifth with a suicide squeeze by Wissinger to make it 7-4. Steel Valley added three more in the sixth to open up a comfortable 10-4 lead.
The only thing left for Steel Valley was to decide how they were going to celebrate the section championship.
“We waited all year just to see that reaction,” Vickers said. “I couldn't wait just to see those guys celebrate.”