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Steel Valley can't hold lead in first-round loss

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Keith Barnes
Monday, May 13, 2013, 7:12 p.m.
 

Throughout the regular season, Steel Valley made a living out of playing the underdog role and coming from behind in clutch situations.

When the Ironmen hit the playoff stage, they could neither hold onto a the lead nor come back.

Chartiers-Houston (12-7) erased an early three-run deficit and scored a pair of gift runs in the top of the fourth to take a 7-5 victory in the opening round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs Monday at Upper St. Clair's Boyce Mayview Park. It is the third consecutive year and fifth time in the last six seasons the Ironmen (12-6) have been knocked out in the first round.

Steel Valley last won a postseason game in 2009 when it defeated Washington in a preliminary-round matchup before losing to Freedom in the first round. The Ironmen last got past the first round in 2006 when they made it to the WPIAL Class AA semifinals and qualified for the state tournament. But like their previous five trips to the postseason, they were stymied out of the gate.

“We have been successful at coming back. You have to credit that pitcher,” Steel Valley coach Tim Vickers said. “Almost every one of our rallies through the year was the result of a pitcher getting behind in the count or us getting a base runner or two on, but that kid got the lead and that was it.”

Chartiers-Houston starter Dylan Pounds was tagged for five runs in the first two innings and appeared at times on the brink of letting the game get away from him. But the Bucs' starter settled into a rhythm and mowed down Steel Valley batters seemingly at will.

“Dylan really settled down after the first two innings,” Chartiers-Houston coach Adam Petras said. “He was in jams early, his pitch count was way up, and he was able to get out of it, and that's a testament to the kind of pitcher that he is.”

Even when he gave up hits in the early innings, Pounds kept the ball down in the strike zone and made Steel Valley work for everything it got. He allowed only three hits after the Ironmen opened up a 5-2 lead in the second inning. He struck out seven and did not allow a fly-ball out in the game.

He wasn't the only one who struggled in the early going. Steel Valley sophomore Jesse Cantley was erratic through his first four innings as five of the batters he walked came around to score. He also threw a pair of wild pitches that helped Chartiers-Houston plate the two go-ahead runs in the fourth.

Despite some shaky early innings, neither coach had any inclination of yanking his starter until Cantley came out with two down in the sixth.

“I didn't look at those guys coming out of the game whatsoever,” Vickers said. “If you look ahead to round two and both of us looking at either Shady Side (Academy) or Riverside, you go with the guy you're with at that point.”

Now, Steel Valley is looking ahead to next season. After winning their first section title since 1994, the Ironmen have a solid foundation on which to continue building the program.

“We weren't picked to do anything at the start of the season, but it's a process,” Vickers said. “We've been a perennial playoff team, but we haven't been real successful when we've gotten here. But to win the section, that's a step in the right direction.”

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