Pine-Richland, Vincentian, Hampton subject to wacky happenings in WPIAL baseball playoffs
Leading, 3-1, heading into the top of the seventh inning, the Pine-Richland baseball team looked like it was just about to close out the game against Central Catholic and punch its ticket to the WPIAL semifinals.
With a man on and two outs, Central saw a deep drive to centerfield score two runs, and it seemed the Vikings took the momentum the Rams had all evening.
“That was tough, because we felt we were outplaying them and doing more,” Pine-Richland coach Kurt Wolfe said. “I told the boys that from that point they had to control what they could control and not to worry about the fans, the other team or the umpires.”
The Rams heeded their coach's advice and won, 4-3, in eight innings.
After retiring the Vikings in order behind pitcher Jamie Switalski, Daane Berezo walked and then moved to second on a Shane Heim sacrifice bunt. Shea Sullivan, who already had three hits, including an RBI double, was intentionally walked. After a strikeout, J.T. Riley was up, and with the Rams season in his shoulders, Riley delivered with a line drive to the gap between first and second. Berezo did the rest.
“I tried to stay focused and hit it to the right side,” Riley said. “(Earlier in the game) I hit one up the middle, and the run didn't score, so I wanted to go right.
“It's crazy, I'll be honest.”
Berezo said he had a feeling he was getting home.
“I trust J.T., and I knew I was going to score,” Berezo said. “It was pure hustle and adrenaline.”
Berezo said he wanted to make amends for his overthrow at third that allowed the tying run to score in the top of the seventh.
The Rams jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to RBI from Heim and Sullivan, then Zac Hunkele knocked in another in the bottom of the fourth.
The Rams got a good outing from Switalski, who struck out four batters in the win.
“Central Catholic is a very good offensive team,” Wolfe said. “Jamie gave us a chance to win every inning. He kept them off balance, and the defense gave support … I am just happy to win and move on.”
The Vincentian Baseball team opened the season with a young squad under new coach Jay Fennell. From the start, the coach knew the handful of sophomores had to play above and beyond for the team to have a shot this season.
For much of the season, they played great baseball, and the Royals qualified for the playoffs.
A 7-3 section record put the Royals in a first-round game against Bishop Canevin. But if there were two things the Royals had to avoid in order to succeed, they were injuries and errors. Both ravaged the team in a 16-1 loss.
Star catcher Phil Madonna and centerfielder Ryan Wolfe suffered injuries prior to the playoffs, keeping them out of the lineup. The losses proved devastating because of their domino effect in shuffling the lineup.
With players playing out of position, errors crept in and runs began to compile.
“We laid a total egg,” Fennell said of the playoff loss. “Our pitcher retired the first five batters, but then a simple ground ball trickled under an infielder's glove...” and the downward spiral began for Vincentian.
“It was a weird game,” Fennell said. “We just could not stop the bleeding.”
Fennell said it was terrible to go out this way, especially after a 7-0 start to the season and a promising team at his disposal.
The good news for the team is they won't lose a lot of seniors, and the starting lineup will return intact. That, coupled with an influx of freshmen Fennell is excited about, should bode well for the team next season.
Madonna and Wolfe will be back, as will pitchers Ian Taylor and Ross Cortese and Greg MacQueen among others.
“We should be better,” Fennell said. “We will still be young, but stronger and more experience. If the commitment is there, we will be OK.”
Another plus that came from the season is the work the pitching rotation got. Fennell didn't ride one stud pitcher; rather, he used a rotation and got several pitchers meaningful work.
Hampton's baseball team was riding high heading into its first-round WPIAL playoff matchup with Trinity.
The Talbots went undefeated in their section and hadn't allowed more than two runs in 13 games, but the Hillers found a way to win a 4-3 upset.
“They've all done a great job this year, just a great group to be with, but unfortunately we fell a little bit too short,” Hampton coach Matt Torrence said.
Ben Vey's first-inning, two-out single scored Tom Radminski from second base to put the Talbots up, 1-0.
“Tommy Radminski has been a great four-year starter for us,” Torrence said.
However, three fielding errors brought defeat to starting pitcher Joey Vita.
“Joey has been absolutely great for us on the mound all year,” Torrence said.
Vita struck out five and gave up four runs, two of them unearned.
“Fielding has been a focus of ours this entire season,” Torrence said. “We just lost a few plays, and good teams will take advantage of that.”
Trinity's Lou Favetti set up the Hillers' winning run when he led off the sixth inning with a routine ground ball that slipped passed Hampton shortstop Troy Merigliano.
Two batters later, with the infield playing in, Trinity's Zach Kenney just barely bounced a chopper over the head of third baseman Zach Staszak.
The Talbots found it more difficult to bring home runners in scoring position and left seven on base.
“You've got to get guys on base and get big hits with them on base,” Torrence said. “Bottom line is that we got on base every inning except for one, and we didn't take advantage of it.”
Torrence credited Trinity's Nick Riotto, who struck out eight Hampton batters.
“He mixed it up nicely and pitched a great game for his team,” Torrence said.
Despite throwing 128 pitches, Riotto only gave up one earned run.
“We forced him to throw strikes and got him to have a high pitch count,” Torrence said. “We were kind of happy about that, but he didn't tire out late in the game.”
In many ways, the Shaler baseball team made a statement this season.
The Titans were supposed to be young, inexperienced and overmatched.
They weren't supposed to make the playoffs and certainly weren't expected to win a share of the section title.
To the credit of the coaching staff and team, the low expectations never got to them.
The Titans won the first section game, then the second, then the third...
Shaler finished 8-2 in the section and shared the crown with Pine-Richland. The finish earned the team a first-round playoff date with Plum, a team Shaler rallied to beat, 10-8, in the second game of the season. The second meeting didn't go as well for Shaler, and the stellar season came to an end, 2-1.
The Titans played their game, but Shaler coach Brian Junker cited some officiating mistakes that aided his squad's demise.
“I take nothing away from Plum — they are a good bunch of kids, good sports and they had energy. So did we,” Junker said. “We had momentum in the first inning, in the middle of the game and in the fifth inning, and the umpires took it away. The umpires rewarded the other team for making mistakes, and that is not what baseball is all about.
“They lied to me, and I am not normally like this, but the kids in (my) dugout got cheated and that's a shame.”
Shaler fell behind, 1-0, in the first inning but came back to tie the score, 1-1, off a Justin Mazza RBI double. Plum pitcher Zac Manuppeli locked down in the late innings to preserve the lead.
Junker was upset about the loss, because he felt his team had the talent to advance. But what seemed to upset him the most is the fact his time to work with this group of players was cut short.
“All season we were buying time,” Junker said. “What I mean is as each section win (piled up), it gave us an opportunity to practice more — to get better. It may not have paid off this year, but next year look out.”
All of Shaler's starters will return next season.
Players like pitcher Jake Potock went from a relative unknown to a legitimate force on the hill for the Titans. Infielders Justin Mazza and Jim Hughes helped pave the way as juniors, and freshman Sam Ireland stepped up and produced, as well.
The team was young with many rising stars who only will be a year better and more experienced next year.
“We will begin working again in September and come back a year stronger mentally and physically,” Junker said.
“We will keep working, and I expect big things.”