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Shaler searching for second straight state title

| Sunday, June 5, 2005

It's time for the WPIAL Class AAAA champion Shaler to stop celebrating and get the bats back out, because the PIAA playoffs start Monday.

Shaler (19-4), which won the state title last year, will have to refocus for this season's state title run, as it will meet undefeated City League champion Brashear (19-0) tomorrow. Coach Rich Massucci feels his team is suited to win its second consecutive state title.

Last season, Shaler bounced back from a 9-1 semifinal defeat against North Allegheny in the WPIAL playoffs to won the state title with a 3-2 victory over Chambersburg.

"We were there last year," Massucci said. "That's definitely an edge for us."

Also on his side is the fact that his team has been pretty dominant on the scoreboard as of late, outscoring its four WPIAL playoff opponents, 40-2 -- the two runs coming in the final against Hempfield (17-5).

The competition in the PIAA playoffs is tougher than the WPIAL, but Massucci feels that there is no difference between the two postseason tournaments.

"Not for us," Massucci said. "We play these playoff games just the same. Every pitcher is different. It's just getting into the rhythm. Once we get into a rhythm, we'll be fine."

But Hempfield's coach, Bob Kalp, knows there is reason for Shaler to worry. He's been in the Titans' situation before.

"When you win the WPIAL, you're on a big high," Kalp said. "You can get caught up in it thinking you're invincible. If you're not on your guard the next time out, you can get beat fairly easily."

In 1998, Kalp's team won the WPIAL but failed to win the state title. The following year, however, his squad lost in the WPIAL playoffs only to win the state title.

"A second chance is the reason we have a picture of the state championship team in our gym," Kalp said.

Hempfield, which will take on McDowell (17-4) in the first round, can also have a second crack at Shaler if the two advance to the quarterfinals.

This season, Hempfield is one of eight WPIAL teams that did not win a title in their respective classes but will still compete for the state title.

In Class A, Beth-Center (16-7) and Leechburg (17-4), which lost in the final to Chartiers-Houston (18-1), will begin PIAA playoff play tomorrow. It's possible Leechburg could meet Beth-Center in the quarterfinals Thursday and Chartiers-Houston in the semifinals June 13.

Waynesburg (18-3), the WPIAL Class AA champion, sits at the top of the PIAA bracket with Washington (17-4), Greensburg Central Catholic (18-4) and South Park (19-3) seeded below it, in that order.

A rematch of the WPIAL Class AAA final is possible if Ambridge (20-2) and Ellwood City (18-4) make it to the semifinals. Hampton (15-9), which finished third in Class AAA, can also have a say in that matter.

For Ellwood City, the PIAA playoffs give pitcher Kaitlyn Schuster a chance to redeem herself for her struggles in the WPIAL final. She summed up the greatness of the PIAA playoffs in four words.

"Second chance, bigger trophy," she said, with a half smile.

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