Breaking down the WPIAL baseball playoffs

Chris Harlan
| Friday, May 9, 2014, 10:00 p.m.

Class AAAA

THE FAVORITE Hempfield won Section 2, likely the strongest Class AAAA section this season, with an offense led by OF Joey DeFloria, 1B Dom Mori and OF Jeff Livengood. The Spartans have built a 10-game winning streak.

THE CONTENDERS Norwin and Arizona recruit J.J. Matejevic lost twice to Hempfield, but both were one-run games. With two Division I pitchers (Buffalo's Mitch Machi and Niagara's Tyler Saundry), defending champion North Allegheny could make another run. Baldwin should contend behind RHP/1B Alex Pantuso, a 6-6 Slippery Rock recruit. Pine-Richland has an experienced lineup led by Daane Berezo (VCU). Mt. Lebanon won Section 5 with junior lefty Austin Kitchen.

DON'T OVERLOOK Penn-Trafford, which split with Hempfield, is toughest when Tyler Smith (Canisius) pitches.

PREDICTION Hempfield over Norwin

Class AAA

THE FAVORITE Blackhawk has been unbeatable when lefty Brendan McKay pitches. The senior has not allowed a run in 58 consecutive innings, a streak that McKay started last season.

THE CONTENDERS Section 1 rivals Montour and West Allegheny each own a win over Blackhawk, but those came without McKay pitching. Cincinnati recruit A.J. Olasz led West Mifflin to the Section 4 title with his hitting and pitching. Buffalo recruit Ben Vey did the same for Hampton in Section 5. Chartiers Valley and Akron recruit Josh Lapiana have won 14 of 15.

DON'T OVERLOOK Thomas Jefferson and SS Joe McHugh (Pitt) have won seven of eight, with a win over West Mifflin included.

PREDICTION Blackhawk over Chartiers Valley

Class AA

THE FAVORITE Neshannock ruled Class A earlier this decade, with three straight trips to the final and two titles. Senior SS Ernie Burkes leads the Lancers, who won their first 17 games.

THE CONTENDERS South Side Beaver (0-19 in 2009) reached the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Quaker Valley was WPIAL runner-up last season to Beaver. Steel Valley junior Brandon Donovan batted better than .600 for the Section 4 winner. Deer Lakes reached the WPIAL semis last season. With SS Ross Maietta, Riverside seeks its third championship game in four years.

DON'T OVERLOOK Shady Side Academy, which finished second to Steel Valley, was a WPIAL semifinalist last season. Bucknell OF recruit Chuckie Scales leads the Indians.

PREDICTION Neshannock over Steel Valley

Class A

THE FAVORITE California, the last undefeated team in the WPIAL, won the Section 1 title. RHP Josh Luko threw two no-hitters for the Trojans, who were semifinalists last year.

THE CONTENDERS Vincentian Academy has a strong righty-lefty combo with juniors Jay Cortese and Ian Taylor.

The Royals were 13-0 before losing to Section 5 rival OLSH. Senior 2B Dan Bechek, who's hitting better than .500, leads OLSH. Freshman lefty Cole McCombs has sparked Serra Catholic with double-digit strikeout totals and a no-hitter. Western Beaver won last season's Class A final over OLSH.

DON'T OVERLOOK Carmichaels, which reached the quarterfinals last season, could be a tough out if senior Brandon Lawless is pitching.

PREDICTION Vincentian over California

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