'WPIAL hangover' dooms baseball teams going into state tourney
Following a 5-2 loss to Seneca Valley in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game Thursday, May 29, Baldwin baseball coach Dan Caponi called practice for 10 a.m. Saturday.
By noon, Caponi was wondering why he had even bothered.
“The Saturday after we played the final was probably the worst practice of the year,” Caponi said. “I was happy to get it over with.”
Unfortunately for Baldwin, it served as a fairly ugly omen.
Baldwin was one of several teams to suffer from what Seneca Valley coach Eric Semega texted Caponi to warn him about the night of the Class AAAA final: the WPIAL hangover.
The Highlanders never shook off that championship game loss and suffered a 9-3 defeat to DuBois in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
“As an adult, you can remind them that they still have something else to play for,” Caponi said. “But I'm not sure it sinks in.”
At least Baldwin wasn't alone. For the first time since 1992, there won't be a WPIAL team playing for a state title after Seneca Valley lost in the Class AAAA semifinals Monday.
No softball team made it either, meaning it's the first time since 1979 that the WPIAL doesn't have an entrant in either set of finals.
Three of the four WPIAL champions went down in the opening round of the state playoffs — the first time since 2007 that's happened — though the reasons differed.
California, the Class A champion, ran into Penn State-bound left-hander Dylan Cyphert, who fanned 10 in a masterful performance for Cranberry.
“He threw a lot of fastballs to get ahead,” California coach Nick Damico said of Cyphert. “He threw our two, three and four hitters first-pitch offspeed. He was getting it over the plate. He can throw three or four pitches for strikes. That's tough to handle. Plus, when you're throwing mid- to upper-80s, that's tough for anybody at any level.”
West Allegheny was unable to regroup after upsetting Blackhawk ace Brendan McKay, who lost for only the second time of his career. Indians pitcher Colin Claus struck out nine but gave up an RBI double in the top of the seventh inning in a loss to Punxsutawney.
Steel Valley, the WPIAL winner in Class AA, gave up seven early runs en route to a 10-4 loss to Bedford, its first loss to a Class AA team this season.
Meanwhile, Blackhawk and Carmichaels — who along with Seneca Valley were the only ones to win a state playoff game this season — bounced back from runner-up finishes with wins.
“It's difficult both ways,” Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said. “One to get you mentally back up because you lost; the other to bring you back down to reality a little bit.”
Blame the WPIAL hangover all you want, but logistics played a part, as well.
The finals usually are spread over two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, before the state playoffs start the following Monday.
This year, rain pushed the completion of three of the four games to Thursday, meaning throwing the same pitcher in both games would have been tough.
West Allegheny (Colin Claus) and Carmichaels (Brandon Lawless) were the only two teams to have a pitcher start the WPIAL final and a first-round state game.
For Carmichaels, its win over Southern Fulton was an emotional one. The Mighty Mikes were irked that Lawless was unable to throw for the completion of the Class A final Thursday because of how the WPIAL handled the rain delay.
“We were real upset,” said Lawless, who went seven innings and struck out nine to pick up the first state playoff win of his career. “After that game, we wanted to focus on the next one. We kept it in the back of our heads, tried to forget about it and take it out on the next team.”
Besides California, Quaker Valley and Seton-La Salle also had difficult draws.
Quaker Valley struck out 10 times against Mike Mock of Martinsburg Central, who is 10-0. Indiana-bound Zach Guth of Franklin fanned 11 Seton-La Salle batters.
“The rest of the state has some talent, too,” Rebels coach Shawn Trainor said.
It would be tough, especially this season, to find any WPIAL coach who would argue.