Blackhawk, South Park baseball meet for 2nd time in 2 weeks, this time in PIAA semis
It's only fitting that the top two baseball teams in Class 4A in the WPIAL this year will battle for a spot in the PIAA championship game.
Two weeks removed from Blackhawk's 3-0 win over South Park in the WPIAL championship game at Wild Things Park, the Cougars and Eagles once again will share a field today, this time in the PIAA semifinals at 6 p.m. at North Allegheny.
“I think it is a mute point,” Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said. “It doesn't matter what we did in the championship. They are a very good team. We are preparing like it is another team.”
South Park is taking a different approach to its second meeting in as many weeks against Blackhawk. Despite their loss, the Eagles are riding a wave of confidence thanks to how they played against the Cougars.
“We felt like the first game we played them, we felt like we won that night,” South Park coach Steve Bucci said. “We know the scoreboard didn't indicate that. We had one bad inning. Our pitcher, Kyle (Thompson), pitched really well.”
Since winning the WPIAL title, the Cougars (23-2) defeated Hickory, 2-1, and Forest Hills, 6-4, in the PIAA first round and quarterfinals, respectively. This is their first state semifinal appearance since 2012 and fifth overall. They still are looking for their first trip to the state championship.
“It would be huge,” Amalia said. “These kids really like each other. They play for each other. They have good attitudes, and I would like to see it happen for them. They have worked so hard.”
Blackhawk began the season 18-0 before losing its only two games of the season on back-to-back days to end the regular season. Momentum heading into playoffs was not on the Cougars' side, but the letdown may be the best reason why they are one of the few teams still playing.
“It was a wake-up call, honestly,” Amalia said. “We had some easy games, and the kids were losing their focus a little bit. The two teams we lost to were really good, but we didn't respect them like we should have. It was better to happen then than in the playoffs. I hate to lose, but I honestly think it was a good thing.”
The No. 1 team in Class 4A has relied on its pitching. The Cougars have 11 shutouts, including blanking the Eagles.
“Our luxury is that we have five good pitchers,” Amalia said. “We used four pitchers in our last two games. In the past, we would have to go to the same guy. Our kids' arms are fresh. The 100 pitch count has been good. I don't think we had a kid throw 100 pitches in a game this year.”
Since their loss in the WPIAL championship game, the Eagles (22-3) have rattled off wins against Clearfield and Hopewell by scores of 4-0 and 7-2, respectively.
The win against Clearfield was extra special for Bucci, who is in his 21st season at South Park and 14th in his second stint. It marked his 300th career win and first time South Park baseball had won a PIAA playoff game.
“That was a special one,” Bucci said. “I was told after the game. I was real surprised. I was just happy to survive the game.”
The run to the PIAA semifinals for South Park may surprise many. After all, this is a team that was knocked out in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs each of the last three years. One of the biggest difference in the turnaround has been the realignment of the classifications.
“Before the realignment, we were playing against teams in the bigger classifications,” Bucci said. “It is not easy. We will not make excuses because of it. It has helped a little bit. We have had some first-round knockouts with some good teams. We played some pretty solid teams.”
It won't just be the baseball team that the South Park community will be keeping an eye on today. The softball team will be participating in the Class 3A semifinal game at Mount Aloysius College.
“Having the girls in it as well, it is great for the community and the school,” Bucci said. “A lot of the younger kids in the community are looking up to these kids as heroes. We want the give this community an opportunity to see history.”
Drew Karpen is a freelance writer.