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West Mifflin clinches playoff berth in wild way against Elizabeth Forward

| Thursday, April 24, 2014, 11:39 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the tribune-review
West Mifflin's Zach Salmon delivers a pitch against Elizabeth Forward on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at Wylie Field.

If you are going to clinch a playoff spot for the first time in four years, you might as well make it memorable.

West Mifflin and rookie coach Jeff Smith aren't going to forget this one anytime soon.

The Titans blew a pair of leads; overcame an unusual ruling by the home plate umpire that stifled a fifth-inning rally; had an assistant coach ejected; got three solid innings of relief from an unlikely source; and scored seven times over the final two innings of a 13-9, three-hour marathon win over rival Elizabeth Forward at Wylie Field.

The win — the Titans' sixth straight — not only guaranteed West Mifflin (10-2, 8-1) a playoff spot, but puts it in position to win its first section title since 2008.

“I am very happy for them and for the team in general,” Smith said. “They have worked hard to get here. They've took some lumps over the years to get here, so it is good to finally see them get rewarded.”

Conversely, the loss severely damaged Elizabeth Forward's playoff hopes. The Warriors (7-7, 3-5) are 2 12 games behind South Park (8-5, 6-3) for the final playoff spot in the section with four games left.

“We know our backs are against the wall a little bit in the section, and that we are going to pretty much win them all to have a shot,” Elizabeth Forward coach Frank Champ said. “Winning this one would've helped us a lot.”

West Mifflin banged out 13 hits off three Elizabeth Forward pitchers and did most of its damage at the top of the order.

Zach Fodor (1 for 2, four runs scored), Ryan Kandsberger (3 for 4, three runs scored), A.J. Olasz (2 for 3, 3 RBIs) and Dan Howard (3 for 4, 5 RBIs) combined for nine hits and eight RBIs while No. 5 hitter Ryan Catalogna chipped in with a key sixth-inning single that gave the Titans a lead they would not relinquish.

EF got three hits from Garrett Martell and two from Jake Terrick.

“It was an awesome game because we were fighting the entire game,” Kandsberger said. “We weren't even thinking about getting into the playoffs today. We were just focused on winning the game.”

Rarely used Dom Robinson made that possible.

Robinson hasn't pitched since throwing two-thirds of an inning a month ago, but relieved starter Zach Salmon in the fourth with West Mifflin trailing 7-5, and didn't allow an earned run in three innings while striking out seven.

“Him coming in there and mowing them down was just eye-opening to me,” Howard said.

But apparently not as eye-opening to West Mifflin as a strange ruling by the home plate umpire with runners on first and third and one out in the fifth. EF reliever Ryan Wardropper's pickoff attempt was thrown into right field scoring Salmon. However, it was ruled the ball wasn't put in play yet by the umpire, thus negating the play.

WM managed to score only one run in the inning to make it 7-6 and assistant coach B.J. Pugh was ejected after the inning ended for arguing.

Smith wasn't happy with the rule, either.

“They weren't looking for any kind of call there and everybody thought the ball was in play and he steps out of his bounds to make a call and that shouldn't have happened,” Smith said. “We kept our cool and it might've been a spark, I don't know. It seemed to have been.”

But first, EF added a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the inning to make it 9-6 with the big hit being Wardropper's run-scoring triple.

“We had the lead and needed just six outs but couldn't get them,” Champ said.

West Mifflin got run-scoring hits by Howard, Catalogna and Robinson in the sixth to take an 11-9 lead then sewed up a playoff spot in the seventh with RBI singles by Olasz and Howard to make it 13-9.

“We always have bigger expectations than playoffs, but it means a heck of a lot to us,” Kandsberger said. “Really, I just want to see a 2014 on the banner in our gym so bad now.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib .

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