Hit parade carries Shaler past Central Catholic
On the bus ride to Churchill, Shaler coach Brian Junker asked his baseball players to close their eyes and imagine themselves with hits.
Apparently, they envisioned quite a few.
“We focus on the mental game a lot; thoughts become things,” said Junker, whose team had 12 hits with five doubles and a home run in Friday afternoon's 10-0 victory over Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.
The first-round matchup at Woodland Hills lasted only five innings.
No. 9 seed Shaler (14-7) scored five runs in the fifth to finish it, with the final two on a homer by sophomore Alex Ficorelli, the team's ninth batter.
“Today, we just turned it on,” said senior Matt Carter, who had two doubles and scored twice. “One kid starts hitting, and it's contagious.”
Shaler's Sam Ireland had two doubles, scored twice and drove in two runs. Jim Bender had three hits, Justin Mazza reached base three times and Jim Hughes scored twice in a well-timed offensive outburst for Shaler, which had lost to Central Catholic, 5-1, on May 7.
The dozen hits didn't surprise Junker.
“The big question was: Where did the bats go for the last week of the (regular) season?” he said.
No. 16 Seneca Valley awaits Shaler on Saturday for a noon quarterfinal at Fox Chapel. Shaler hadn't won a first-round matchup since 2010.
“I honestly feel that we can beat anyone,” Carter said. “We have the pitching staff. And we have the hitting, as you saw.”
No. 8 Central Catholic (13-5) had just three hits against Shaler right-hander Jake Potock, who didn't allow a runner to reach third. The 6-foot-5 junior had three strikeouts, walked none and retired 15 of the 18 batters he faced.
“With Jake on the mound for them, they can beat anybody with the way they swung the bats,” Central Catholic coach Frank LaCava said.
Shaler used a leadoff walk by Mazza and singles from Hughes, Bender and Pat Carlson to score three first-inning runs off Central Catholic starter Grant Gustic. Shaler added one run each in the second and third innings, when Ireland and Carter doubled and scored.
Gustic had beaten Shaler last week, but the senior allowed 10 hits and eight runs in the rematch. He was replaced one out into the fifth.
“That's a good Shaler team,” LaCava said. “They hit a very good pitcher.”
Shaler's entire lineup batted in the fifth inning and seven reached base.
A two-out double by Ireland scored two runs and Ficorelli's homer to left scored two more.
Neither team had played in a week. Originally scheduled to start Tuesday, the Class AAAA playoffs were postponed by rain.
“I could say it was the layoff, but it wasn't,” LaCava said. “Shaler had a layoff just as much as we did. I'm not going to make excuses. We got beat by a good team.”