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Sports

Neshannock doesn't mind underdog role against Serra

| Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mike Kirkwood has seen this before.

* A WPIAL Class A championship game at Consol Energy Park.

* One team being one of the top-ranked teams in the state.

* One team being a sizable underdog against the defending WPIAL champs.

Forget that the Neshannock coach has seen this same scenario before, he was part of it the first time it happened in 2004.

That year, defending champion Carmichaels and its 15-2 record and ace Jared Lapkowicz on the mound for the title game was supposed to cruise to another title.

Neshannock was said to have little to no chance to do anything against the junior lefty with a career 25-2 record at the time.

Well, Neshannock did more than just shock Carmichaels.

The Lancers embarrassed the defending champs, 15-0.

Fast forward six years and Kirkwood has to be feeling a little deja vu.

His team is in the WPIAL Class A championship game at Consol Energy Park against the state's top-ranked team and are huge underdogs against the defending champs in Serra Catholic (20-1).

"We have been in this situation before," Kirkwood said. "I know these kids were young at the time, probably in middle school, but they are aware of what happened. I don't need to tell them. We are going in there with confidence that we can do this. It is probably a surprise to everybody that we are here."

Don't think for a minute that Serra feels that Wednesday's championship game will be a cakewalk despite bringing in a 19-game winning streak in which the Eagles invoked the 10-run rule 13 times against their opponents.

"I like our chances," junior catcher Chris Miller said. "We know it is going to be a tough game. There are no easy games in the playoffs."

Serra had an easy one in their semifinal win over Vincentian, but even though, Eagles coach Brian Dzurenda isn't about to take any team lightly, especially in the WPIAL title game.

"What makes baseball so great is that anything can happen on any given day," Dzurenda said.

But for Serra, that might not be such a great thing.

The Eagles are head and shoulder above all the competition in the WPIAL and have shown that throughout the regular season. Serra beat both Burrell and Beaver Falls on the road in non-section games. Those two will meet in today's Class AA title game.

"Serra is a very good team," Kirkwood said. "We are confident, but we are also hoping to go in there and not get embarrassed."

Neshannock has a penchant for winning, too. The Lancers won WPIAL titles in 2002 and 2004 to go along with a state championship in 2004.

The Lancers have won 14 of their past 15 including three tight games in the postseason against Leechburg (4-1), Monaca (4-1) and California (4-2).

"When you get to this point of the season there is not much difference between teams," Kirkwood said. "I am happy to see the top seeds at this point and let's see what happens."

Serra is fresh off a dominant performance against Vincentian last week where Alain Girman (6-0, 1.30 ERA, 77 Ks) tossed a no-hitter.

With eight days off in between games, Dzurenda very well could go with the fireballing lefty Wednesday. However, the three-time Daily News Baseball Coach of the Year hinted toward giving older brother and senior Oliver Girman the start.

"Just say that we are going with Girman," Dzurenda said. "Girman will pitch and we will leave it at that. It is a good problem to have. Both have them have been just stellar this year for us."

Oliver Girman has been the forgotten man this year for Serra mostly because the success of Alain Girman.

Oliver Girman is having a pretty stellar year himself. He is 5-0 with a 0.97 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 29 innings pitched. The opposition is hitting .189 against him.

Kirkwood thinks that Oliver Girman will get the start.

"How we do it we go with the senior," Kirkwood said. "So I am expecting to see Oliver Girman pitch."

Translation: Neshannock will go with senior Zach Altmyer (7-3) over sophomore Alex Strittmatter (6-1) on the mound.

"They have really two good pitchers," Dzurenda said. "We know what both of them can do. Altmyer pitched one heck of a game against California and we are expecting to see him."

A win by Serra would mark the first time a Class A team has ever won back-to-back titles

"No team has ever done it before in Class A," Dzurenda said. "Sure we want to do it. It would be a great accomplishment for this program and I think these kids deserve it. They work so damn hard. I can't think of a team that deserves it more than them. We have a bunch of characters on this team. Don't mistake that for lazy or don't work hard because they work extremely hard during practice."

NOTES: The winner will be the top seed in the state playoffs and will take on the District 6 runner-up which would be either Homer-Center or Bishop Guilfoyle. The loser will take on the winner of the Homer-Center/Bishop Guilfoyle game. ... Serra has six starters batting over .400. ... Miller, who is hitting .578, has been intentionally walked three times in seven postseason plate appearances. ... First baseman Jesse Campbell leads the team with 34 RBI.

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