Baseball, softball teams look to regroup after WPIAL playoff letdowns
Give Blackhawk baseball coach Bob Amalia a choice, and the decision is easy.
WPIAL or PIAA championship? Amalia's taking the latter.
“If you're out of state and you told someone you won your district, they might think that's good, but they don't know how many teams are in your district,” Amalia said. “Everyone knows what it means if you tell them you won the state.”
After Amalia's top-seeded Cougars suffered an upset loss in the WPIAL Class AAA final, Blackhawk finds itself looking to regroup, fix some things and keep playing through the state tournament, which begins Monday.
Blackhawk is the only baseball team to face the scenario. Canon-McMillan softball, the No. 1 seed in WPIAL Class AAAA, faces an identical situation after falling to Shaler in the championship game.
Greensburg Salem was the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class AAA softball bracket and lost in the semifinals. The Golden Lions had to win a consolation-round game to reach the state tournament for a third straight year.
“Once we figured out that we had a chance at states, then it was like we forgot that we lost. It was new life,” Greensburg Salem coach Jody Morgan said. “It wasn't hard to get them refocused for that consolation game because they didn't want to be done.”
There is some historical context here, and you have to trace back only to 2012.
That year, Neshannock was seeded No. 1 in the WPIAL Class AA softball bracket only to suffer an upset loss to fourth-seeded Deer Lakes, 2-0, in the semifinals. After beating Riverside in the third-place game, the Lancers scored 28 runs in four PIAA tournament games to claim their first state title.
The Riverside baseball team, though seeded third in the WPIAL bracket, lost to Ellwood City, 9-7, in the championship game the same year before winning a PIAA Class AA title.
Of the eight No. 1 seeds from this year's WPIAL baseball and softball tournaments, six are still playing and three — California baseball, Beaver and Neshannock softball — were crowned champions.
Hempfield baseball lost in the first round to No. 16 Seneca Valley, the eventual Class AAAA champion, and Neshannock baseball fell to Class AA runner-up Seton-La Salle, a No. 9 seed, in the quarterfinals.
A trio of No. 2 seeds — Baldwin and Quaker Valley baseball, as well as Deer Lakes softball — will similarly be looking to turn upset losses into a strong showing at the PIAA tournament.
For Greensburg Salem and Blackhawk, a quick response was key — or at least they hope. The Golden Lions' win in the consolation-round was an emotional one, with Maggie Kallock racing home on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Blackhawk catcher Jake Emge was encouraged by how the Cougars rallied for three runs to send the game into extra innings after ace Brendan McKay allowed three runs and had his scoreless-innings streak snapped.
“We didn't flop like most teams would, especially with a team scoring three runs on McKay. That's unheard of,” Emge said. “We didn't stop. We didn't turn over. That's promising as a player to see that.”
Canon-McMillan didn't have to spend a lot of time learning what to correct at practice, as the Big Macs made five errors to run their season total to 47.
In three playoff games, Canon-McMillan has hit one homer after averaging 2.6 per game during the regular season.
“As I said to them, ‘I'm angry. I want back out there. I want to go again, and I hope you all feel that same desire now because we didn't play our best game,' ” Big Macs coach Michele Moeller said. “In a championship game, to not play your best game … that's a hard pill to swallow.”