Latrobe baseball meets team of 'destiny' in state finals
Latrobe's opponent in the PIAA Class 5A championship game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday doesn't have an impressive record at 13-12.
But the District 11 champions from Whitehall have been on a run since May 19 when they were 7-12.
The Zephyrs have won six consecutive games after defeating West Scranton, 13-2, to qualify for the District 11 tournament.
This is the first appearance in the PIAA championship for both teams. Latrobe, the WPIAL champion, is riding a 16-game winning streak into the game at Penn State's Lubrano Park.
Whitehall coach Shaun O'Boyle said he can't explain what happened on that day in mid May, but his team sure turned things around.
Whitehall, near Allentown, has advanced through the playoffs by getting excellent pitching, good defense and clutch hitting. It is averaging seven runs per game.
The Zephyrs defeated Wallenpaupack, 6-2, on Monday behind the strong left arm of pitcher Alex Bruneio.
Outfielder Robby Lamm told reporters after Monday's victory that, “This is destiny. We weren't supposed to be in the playoffs, and now we're in the state championship.”
Latrobe (23-2) has found different ways and different players to pull out victories.
It was pitcher Ryan Shawley and first baseman Isaac Echard who came up big in Monday's 2-1 semifinal win against Springfield (Delco). Shawley tossed a three-hitter, and his second-inning sacrifice bunt set up the game's first run.
“Making it to the state championship game is like a dream come true,” Shawley said. “It feels great to go down in history with these guys. We're such a great group.
“I've had people text me throughout the week and say one more to get to the state championship, and every time I hear that, and I think about being a state champ, I get chills. WPIAL champ is amazing. But you hear state champ you get a different feeling.”
Echard's single to center field scored Ryan Augustine to make it 1-0 and then Echard used his speed (two stolen bases) and a Springfield throwing error to give Latrobe a 2-0 lead.
“Anyone in my situation would have gotten the job done,” Echard said. “I was fortunate enough to come through for my team. We were told we had the green light on the bases. We wanted to put the pressure on them to make plays.”
Echard said the team has spent the season working toward being a champion.
“Coach (Matt Basciano) let us see preseason section rankings, where we were ranked No. 1, and he hung them in the bathroom in the locker room,” Echard said. “He said they meant nothing. But we proved that ranking right.
“We also were seeded No. 2 in the WPIAL tournament, and we proved that wrong. Now we're in the state championship. It's unbelievable.”
Senior Jared Kollar will probably get the nod on the hill. He pitched in the WPIAL championship game and in the quarterfinal win against West Allegheny. Senior center fielder Zach Kokoska, the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year, is the leading hitter for Latrobe.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.