WPIAL baseball playoff capsules
Play starts: Friday
Last year's final: North Allegheny 12, Upper St. Clair 2 (five innings)
Outlook: This is the most wide-open big-school field in years, with at least four teams staking a legitimate claim to the top seed. In the end, the top spot went to Section 2-AAAA champion Penn-Trafford. The Warriors were 9-1 in their final 10 games but drew a tough quarterfinal game with the Mt. Lebanon-Fox Chapel survivor. ... Also receiving first-round byes were No. 2 Baldwin, which was 8-2 down the stretch, and No. 3 Seneca Valley, which swept North Allegheny on the way to sharing the Section 1 crown. ... Defending champion North Allegheny, which has reached the finals 10 times in the past 16 years, is the No. 4 seed. ... Upper St. Clair, ranked No. 1 for most of the season, is limping into the playoffs on a four-game losing streak. The sixth-seeded Panthers, led by senior C Kris McDonough (.448, nine HR), face a potential quarterfinal dandy with Seneca Valley. ... Fox Chapel, which finished third in Section 1, is a sleeper. The Foxes have won four in a row and were 7-1 against WPIAL playoffs teams, sweeping Seneca Valley. ... Section 1 runner-up Norwin, the only team in the field with fewer than four losses, features Ps Paul Bugajski (6-1, 2.45) and Tom Shirley (5-1, 0.67 ERA, 81 Ks). Norwin will face red-hot Central Catholic, which has averaged nine runs a game during its current seven-game winning streak. ... Latrobe will play Franklin Regional in a rematch of a 10-9 Latrobe win in the first week of the season.
Prediction: Seneca Valley over Fox Chapel
Play starts: Friday
Last year's final: Pine-Richland 6, Moon 5
Outlook: Peters Township, the lone undefeated team in WPIAL baseball, is the clear No. 1 seed. Can the Indians finally reach the title game after faltering in the semifinals each of the past three years• They have the best pitching staff in Class AAA baseball and tremendous team defense. They get a likely quarterfinal game with Hampton, hitting .397 as a team. ... No. 2 seed Pine-Richland, the two-time defending WPIAL Class AAA champ, went 7-1 in the final month and swept Blackhawk. ... No. 3 South Park, led by senior C Tyler Scruggs (.462, 7 HR, 32 RBI), is 13-1 against WPIAL teams other than Peters Township. ... No. 4 Blackhawk, which won seven of its final eight games, is playoff-tested under coach Bob Amalia. The top four seeds received first-round byes in the 12-team field. ... Elizabeth Forward gets its first playoff game in 23 years, against West Allegheny. The winner draws Pine-Richland, which is praying for dry weather and no chance to face EF stud J.J. Hoover in its opener.
Prediction: Peters Township over Pine-Richland
Play starts: Wednesday
Last year's final: North Catholic 5, Riverside 0
Outlook: Top-seeded Riverside stumbled against Mohawk in the final week, but the defending PIAA Class AA champions are clearly the class of the field. Coach Dan Oliastro's team started 17-0 and posted 10-run wins in 14 games. Led by P/SS Johnny Elms and OF Christian Valeriano, Riverside has it all. The Panthers face a likely quarterfinal game with Northgate, which is 11-2 since early April. ... No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic should stroll into the semifinals, where a potential rematch with No. 3 North Catholic awaits. ... North Catholic junior LHP Alex Valadja no-hit GCC last year. North Catholic opens with Shady Side Academy before a tough quarterfinal game with Mohawk, which has won eight in a row and handed Riverside its lone loss. ... No. 4 seed Burrell is 12-1 against Class AA teams since April, but the Bucs are looking at a quarterfinal game with surging Quaker Valley.
Prediction: Riverside over Greensburg C.C.
Play starts: Friday
Last year's final: Carmichaels 2, Chartiers-Houston 0
Outlook: Rochester, the Section 3 champion, closed the season with a four-game winning streak, enough to earn the No. 1 seed. Rochester, led by ace lefty Rick Hocanson, opens with either perennial power Chartiers-Houston or Section 3 rival OLSH, which lost to the Rams twice this year by a combined six runs. But Rochester coach Kim Verrico played a tough non-section schedule, and that will help. That said, the bracket remains a free-for-all, with no teams using the regular season to separate themselves from the pack. ... Bishop Canevin, the Section 2 champion, landed the valuable No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it. Canevin is looking at a rematch with Carmichaels in the quarterfinals. The Mighty Mikes beat Canevin last year on the way to the WPIAL title. ... No. 3 seed California, which opens with Avella, is an enigma. Will the Section 1 co-champion play like the team that won seven in a row at mid-season or the one that started 4-4 and got swept by Mapletown• ... Springdale, the No. 4 seed, won 10 in a row this season under first-year coach and former Shaler star Dan Pschirer. The Dynamos open with Monaca, which was 4-5 down the stretch. ... Geibel shared the Section 1 title and won its final 11 games, but settled for the No. 5 seed.
Prediction: California over Rochester