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3 area teams begin quest for PIAA glory Monday

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steel Valley's Brandon Donovan delivers a pitch during the first inning of the WPIAL Class AA championship game against Seton-La Salle Tuesday, May 27, 2014, at Consol Energy Park. Steel Valley won, 6-5.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

Steel Valley backed up its lofty preseason talk by winning its first WPIAL baseball championship last week, and the Ironmen want more.

Coach Tim Vickers was shaking his head in a amazement while presenting his team with gold medals after a dramatic 6-5 victory over Seton-La Salle in the title game.

Vickers said Steel Valley made a pact to make the playoffs, finish the regular season undefeated in Class AA and win a WPIAL title.

“I'm at the awards presentation, and I hear someone say, ‘Let's go after No. 4,' ” said Vickers, referring to a PIAA crown.

Steel Valley (18-2), with losses to Class AAAA Moon and Class AAA Thomas Jefferson, finished the regular season undefeated (12-0) in Section 4-AA. Jesse Cantley's two-out RBI single drove home the winning run against Seton-La Salle.

“We never really talked much about the first three goals during the season,” Vickers said. “But it was really cool to see the team almost instantly embrace the idea of No. 4.”

Steel Valley plays District 5 champion Bedford (11-6) at 3 p.m. Monday at Fox Chapel in a PIAA first-round game.

Two other schools in the Daily News coverage area begin the state playoffs Monday: West Mifflin in baseball and Thomas Jefferson in softball. Both compete in Class AAA.

West Mifflin (15-5) reached the state tournament by beating Hampton in the WPIAL consolation game. The Titans play District 10 champ Erie Cathedral Prep (18-3) at 6 p.m. at Jerry Uht Stadium in Erie.

In softball, Thomas Jefferson (15-6) meets District 6 champion Bellefonte (13-8) at 4 p.m. at Baldwin. The Jaguars outlasted Mars, 5-3, in nine innings to claim its first WPIAL title.

Vickers and his Steel Valley club have been busy since winning a WPIAL title. They've been escorted around town, visited schools in the school district and arrived at a school board meeting in time for high fives and public recognition.

“It's been wild,” Vickers said. “A lot of attention in the last week.”

It will be the third trip to Fox Chapel during the postseason for Steel Valley, which beat Apollo-Ridge and Quaker Valley in the WPIAL playoffs.

West Mifflin earned its first trip to the PIAA playoffs, beating Hampton, 8-5. Dan Howard's bases-clearing double broke a 5-5 deadlock after teammate A.J. Olasz's homer had tied it.

“We had the timely hitting,” West Mifflin coach Jeff Smith said. “Those were big hits we got from A.J. and Dan. And there were others.”

Olasz, a Cincinnati recruit and West Mifflin's top pitcher, saw his first mound action since an April shoulder injury limited him to designated hitter duty. He pitched one scoreless inning.

Like the Steel Valley baseball team, Thomas Jefferson also received preferred treatment. The Jaguars were honored with a parade after winning a WPIAL softball title.

Thomas Jefferson celebrated, then scrimmaged on Saturday against Class AAAA power Canon-McMillan, the WPIAL runner-up and 2013 PIAA champion.

“Canon-McMillan is really good, and it will bring us back down,” Thomas Jefferson coach Heidi Karcher said. “My girls aren't cocky. They just have to go out and play the game we taught them. We'll just go play basic softball against Bellefonte, play good defense and pitch.”

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