Big first inning vaults Pine-Richland to playoff win over Mt. Lebanon
With outcomes like this, Pine-Richland might be wise to lose more coin flips.
The higher-seeded Rams, designated as the visitors, surged ahead Monday with four runs in the top of the first inning to beat Mt. Lebanon, 8-1, in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA baseball playoffs.
The strong start included a bases-clearing triple by third baseman Jack Hudak that scored three runs at Shaler's Matulevic Field.
“We knew that we had to come out aggressive,” said Hudak, a senior. “Getting runs in the first inning is what we do. All year we've jumped ahead early.”
“Believe it or not, I think losing the coin flip helped us,” Pine-Richland coach Kurt Wolfe said.
Mt. Lebanon's big inning never came.
Pine-Richland starter Marcus Colella allowed five hits, walked two and had two others reach on fielding errors, but the senior lefty allowed only a single run in the sixth inning. Colella helped himself by picking off three runners.
A few windy-day catches by outfielders Zak Hunkele, Shane Heim and Shea Sullivan helped the bend-but-don't-break approach.
“I always kid around and say we play like slow-pitch softball,” Wolfe said. “We just look for outs to limit the inning. If we do that, we feel we can score enough offensively to have an opportunity to win.”
No. 4 Pine-Richland (16-4) reaches Wednesday's quarterfinals for the first time since 2010, when it won the WPIAL title. The Rams will face No. 5 Central Catholic, a 4-3 winner over Penn-Trafford. No. 13 Mt. Lebanon (8-10) was WPIAL runner-up last season.
“I thought our kids gave a championship effort,” Mt. Lebanon coach Patt McCloskey said, “but they're an extremely good lineup, and they certainly got the best of us today.”
Pine-Richland had 17 batters reach base against right-hander Zack Bahm, who allowed 10 hits, walked five and struck out three. Heim had three hits, three RBI and scored twice.
The Rams added two runs in the fifth and sixth innings, but the four-run first had done the real damage.
Leading 1-0, Pine-Richland loaded the bases with Daane Berezo's walk, Heim's single and Sullivan's walk. Hudak cleared them by driving an outside curveball.
The Rams had at least one base runner every inning.
“That's been our formula all year,” Wolfe said. “We've really been working pitchers and getting on base.”