Uniontown qualifies for WPIAL postseason for 1st time since 2002

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 10:51 p.m.

With the regular season nearing an end, the Uniontown baseball team is heading into unfamiliar territory, but it only seems fitting.

The Red Raiders (8-9, 7-5) qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2002, securing a place in the top three of Section 2-AAA before dropping a pair of games Tuesday to Indiana and Laurel Highlands, the other playoff teams from the section.

But an unforseen setback to start the year almost put that goal out of reach.

Uniontown was forced off its home field for the first half of the season after a broken sewage pipe left it unsuitable for play.

“It was difficult,” senior Luke Wallace said. “Traveling every day wasn't the worst part, but we didn't have the facilities to practice on. We really didn't get the swings and didn't get to see the ball on an actual field.”

Being displaced eventually took its toll and saw Uniontown go through an especially rough patch in the middle of April, scoring just five runs in three consecutive section losses to Indiana, Laurel Highlands and Yough.

“We hit that wall that one week,” coach Ken Musko said. “It was hard to keep them motivated at times.”

Despite the frustrations the team faced, Musko saw the opportunity his team had to do something special in his second year as coach.

“I kind of just broke it down to them saying, ‘This is the year. You've got to get it now,' ” Musko said. “There was an attitude slump that we just had to break out of.”

Fox, Wallace and fellow senior Zack Stashick make up the middle of the batting order, and have essentially defined the offense this season. Fox doubled twice and Stashick tripled in a 3-1 win over Mt. Pleasant that snapped the mid-season losing streak. Musko told his star hitters afterward that the game was a prime example of what happens when they hit the ball well.

“We do feel the pressure a little bit,” Wallace said, “but that's what seniors are supposed to do. We step up when we need a big hit.”

That win was the first in a string of five straight that catapulted Uniontown back into a playoff spot for good.

“It seemed like we all started firing on all cylinders,” Fox said. “I think Coach Musko telling us that was kind of the key thing, just that little minute thing that really made a difference to open up my eyes.”

For most teams, ending a 12-year playoff drought could bring a lot of pressure onto the players.

But this team is just happy to have a field to play on.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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