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Undefeated California pulls away to win WPIAL Class A baseball title

| Thursday, May 29, 2014, 5:24 p.m.
California pitcher Joshua Luko delivers to the plate against Carmichaels during the WPIAL Class A championship game Thursday, May 29, 2014, at Consol Energy Park. California won, 6-1.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
California pitcher Joshua Luko delivers to the plate against Carmichaels during the WPIAL Class A championship game Thursday, May 29, 2014, at Consol Energy Park. California won, 6-1.

Jake Columbus wrapped his left arm around the WPIAL Class A championship trophy so tightly that it seemed more likely to come apart at the screws than fall to the turf.

“It's my senior year,” the California baseball team's catcher said, “and I've been waiting since my freshman year to get this.”

In a game pushed back two days because of rain, top-seeded California scored three runs in the top of the fourth inning to grab a lead it would not relinquish, cruising to a 6-1 victory over No. 10 Carmichaels on Thursday at Consol Energy Park in Washington.

The title is the fourth for California's program and first since 2006.

It's the third win for California (20-0) over its rival this season.

Senior Josh Luko pitched seven innings over two days to earn the win. He allowed seven hits and one run while striking out nine and walking none. Luko threw 114 pitches, 80 for strikes and fired first-pitch strikes to 17 of 28 batters.

“I don't think words can describe it,” Luko said of the what he thought in the seventh before fielding a comebacker to end it. “It's an unbelievable feeling.”

How the WPIAL handled calling the game Tuesday night then postponing it Wednesday irked Carmichaels coach Scott VanSickle, who could not use starting pitcher Brandon Lawless on Thursday because of WPIAL pitching rules.

VanSickle accused WPIAL officials of catering to Blackhawk pitcher Brendan McKay and favoring big schools over smaller ones.

“I think (the WPIAL believes) that Class AAAA and Class AAA are more important than Class A,” VanSickle said. “That's my personal opinion. That's probably wrong, and they'll say it's wrong. But I'm entitled to my opinion.”

VanSickle wouldn't say exactly what he would have preferred to happen — or why McKay was the root of the problem — only offering that, “I don't believe they were worried about our game at 8 o'clock at night (Tuesday) when they (knew) a storm (was) coming.

“If we're moved to Thursday (before starting Tuesday), we might be able to play a whole game in one day.”

After Columbus drove in left fielder Casey Zajicek with a single to left, shortstop Louden Conte's single up the middle through a drawn-in infield scored right fielder Robbie DeFranco and first baseman Nathaniel Luketich, giving California a 4-1 lead.

“It swayed the momentum toward our side,” California coach Nick Damico said. “We were able to hold on to that lead.”

Third baseman Ronnie Baron drove a two-run double the opposite way in the sixth for California's final runs.

Lawless took the loss and allowed three runs on two hits over 3 13 innings. Though Lawless (8-2) did not pitch Thursday, California had two runners on base — charged to Lawless — when the game resumed.

California will play the District 9 runner-up in the first round of the PIAA Class A playoffs Monday. Carmichaels (14-3) will face the District 5 champion the same night. Times and sites are yet to be determined.

Center fielder Ryan Zalar had two hits for Carmichaels. Conte and Columbus had two apiece for California, while Conte drove in three runs.

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