Riverside's Wilson too much for Steel Valley in quarterfinals
Playing powerhouse Riverside in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals was a thought few outside the Steel Valley dugout believed was possible at the beginning of the season, but that's just where Matt Janov and his Ironmen found themselves Monday afternoon at North Hills' McIntyre Field.
Despite the 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Panthers' pitching — and hitting — sensation Kirsten Wilson, the 11th-seeded underdog finished off one of its best seasons in nearly a decade.
“Not a lot of people thought we could make it this far,” Janov said. “To finish tied for second in (Section 4-AA) and also win a playoff game, that's a great accomplishment for them.”
Last week, the Ironmen (12-6) upset sixth-seeded Burrell, 2-1, to claim the school's first playoff victory since 2006. That victory came on the heels of a 11-5 regular season that saw the emergence of freshman pitcher Maddie Cotter.
Cotter earned all 12 of Steel Valley's victories and collected 132 strikeouts, a regular-season average of eight per game.
“I couldn't be more proud of her,” Janov said. “When she first started, we knew she was going to be good, but just her poise on the mound has been tremendous all season.”
Cotter's poise was put to the test Monday as her counterpart Wilson hit laser beam home runs to left field in the first and fifth innings to give Riverside (17-0), which will face No. 2 seed Chartiers-Houston Wednesday in the semifinals at a site and time to be determined, leads of 2-0 and 5-0.
“You have to take it one pitch at a time. If a mistake happens, you can't let it bring the whole team down,” Cotter said of her mindset after the home runs. “More mistakes will happen if you do that.”
Wilson fanned 15 batters and recorded her 14th shutout. All this coming a week after she pitched a five-inning perfect game against Bentworth in the first round. The consistent success of a program like Riverside serves as a measuring stick for second-year coach Janov.
“You face a team and a program of this caliber, who's been a traditional power, it's a good learning experience to see where we want to go,” Janov said.
“That's the type of program we want to become.”
Next year, Janov returns five freshmen, including three starters in Cotter, catcher Chelsea Rohan and outfielder Lisa Straub. Cotter and Rohan already stay at least an hour after practice to hone their skills and strengthen their pitcher-catcher relationship, but Cotter plans to do even more.
“I want to get stronger so I can pitch faster,” Cotter said.
A by-product of success is a winning attitude, and that's what Janov and Cotter bring into next season after one year together.
“I hope we (make the playoffs) the next three years,” Cotter said.
“Our expectations should get higher and higher every year,” Janov added. “I anticipate us to be back in the playoffs again next year.”
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.