Small ball sends North Allegheny to finals
The ball rolled only a few feet, but North Allegheny's James Meeker couldn't have been much happier with his first at bat.
“We spent countless hours at practice working on that, trying to become a solid bunting team,” said Meeker, whose first-inning sacrifice keyed the first run in Tuesday's 3-0 semifinal victory over Hempfield in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs at Shaler's Matulevic Field.
Four innings started with North Allegheny's first batter reaching base, and every time, the next hitter laid down a successful sacrifice. Twice, the leadoff batter eventually scored. That selfless small-ball approach has the Tigers in the WPIAL championship for the third time in five seasons.
The roster might lack the star power of past title-winning lineups, but this team has learned to win with teamwork, coach Andy Maddix said.
“Once we figured that out, we really started to play well,” Maddix said. “(We learned) we were better as a team than individually.”
No. 3 Hempfield (19-4) didn't have the chance to match NA's small-ball strategy. The Spartans had eight batters reach base, but seven of them reached with two outs. That included the third and fifth innings, when Hempfield left two on base.
“They were able to get guys on early in the inning, and we kind of scratched at it late,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “We had a couple nice chances but didn't get it done.”
Three runs were enough for NA starter Mitch Machi, who earned a 3-0 win over Hempfield April 20 and a 10-0 win in last year's playoffs. The junior allowed two hits, both singles. He struck out two and walked two.
Machi credited his defense
“I'm a pitcher who pitches to contact, and our fielders are impeccable,” he said.
No. 2 North Allegheny (19-4) will face No. 1 Seneca Valley (18-3) either Tuesday or Wednesday at Consol Energy Park in Washington.
Seneca Valley, the two-time defending champion, holds a pair of 3-2 victories over North Allegheny from the regular season. Tuesday's success was inspired by those one-run losses.
“In the long run, perhaps those losses helped us,” Maddix said, “because we realized how important it was for us as a team to execute the little things rather than be individual.”
In the first inning, NA's Brandon Bergstrom walked, advanced on Meeker's bunt and scored on Jimmy Divosevic's single. In the sixth, Meeker singled, moved to second on Matt Waugaman's sacrifice bunt and scored on Justin Dattilo's single. Dattilo later scored on J.T. Zeitler's single.
Hempfield senior Zack Martinelli allowed only five hits — all singles.