Elizabeth Forward gets perfect end to perfect season
NORTH FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP — Dan Altavilla ran off the mound and looked at the ground ball dribbling in the direction of Ryan Meier.
The Elizabeth Forward second baseman fielded the ball and threw on to first baseman Cole Quattrone to record the final out that sealed the Warriors' 7-0 win over Hampton to capture the WPIAL Class AAA championship Wednesday. But Altavilla still had to wait before joining his teammates in a much-desired celebratory outburst.
"I was just making sure he had the perfect out," Altavilla said.
And with it came the conclusion to a perfect season.
With the victory, top-seeded EF (21-0) captured its first WPIAL championship since 1976 and became just the fourth team ever to collect the district title unscathed in the loss column.
It was a night that also saw the Warriors tie their school record for total wins in a season and erased the feelings of disappointment left from their WPIAL and PIAA semifinal playoff runs of a year ago.
"I couldn't be happier," seventh-year EF coach Frank Champ said. "It's just a great group of kids. I can't put it all into words. I just can't be happier for them. I really can't."
Altavilla tossed seven shutout innings, conceding just two hits, with 10 strikeouts to completely stifle second-seeded Hampton (16-4), which lost for the first time in its past 16 games.
"It's an unbelievable feeling right now," said Altavilla, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. "I can't be more proud of our guys."
Seniors Cody Shotwell and John Kutzfara handed their pitcher all the run support he would need. Shotwell collected a 3-for-3, three-RBI performance that included a two-run homer.
Kutzfara was 3-for-4 with three RBI.
"We knew we were good," Shotwell said. "Obviously, we're undefeated, but we still came in with a straight mind, did what we had to do and obviously the outcome was very good."
The Warriors wasted little time in asserting themselves at the plate.
With one out in the top of the first inning, Meier got the Warriors off to a fast start against Hampton pitcher John Koch with a double into the left-center field gap.
Kutzfara and Altavilla followed with consecutive RBI doubles to give EF a 2-0 lead.
The Warriors added to their lead in the second inning when Shotwell lifted a first-pitch offering from Koch over the left-center field fence for a two-run homer.
"Honestly, it didn't really hit me until after I stepped on home plate," Shotwell said of his first-career home run. "I'm not really a power hitter by any means, but I had to do what I had to do and I'm happy with the outcome."
Shotwell added another run for EF with an RBI single in the fourth inning off reliever John Arnold to make the score 5-0.
In the seventh inning, Kutzfara added some important insurance runs with a two-run single to lengthen the Warriors' lead to 7-0.
"There's no quit," Champ said. "They push for a W in any situation."
And while the Warriors hitters rolled at the plate, Altavilla turned in maybe his most dominant performance of the season.
The hard-throwing Mercyhurst recruit did not conceded a hit through five innings, but allowed three walks.
"I think I was pretty good throughout the game," Altavilla said. "It's just my curveball, it just wasn't on today. I got some batters, so it's OK. I just used fastball and change up most of the game and it worked."
Matt Coholich collected the first hit of the game for Hampton against Altavilla with one out in the top of the sixth inning, before Ryan Gally dropped a double into short left field to put runners in scoring position with two outs.
But Altavilla got out of the jam by working Talbots designated hitter Zach Juliano to an 0-2 count before getting him to ground out weakly to first baseman Cole Quattrone, ending the threat.
"You can't expect a no-hitter in the championship game," said Altavilla, who is now 10-0 with 107 strikeouts on the season. "I'm just glad we won."
Koch was on the hook for the loss after working two innings in which he allowed four runs — three earned — on four hits with two strikeouts.
"Right now it hurts to lose, but in the long run, great run so far," Hampton coach Matt Torrence said. "They're the No. 1 team for a reason. We got outhit. We got outplayed. We got outpitched."
EF will next advance to the PIAA playoffs against the City League Champion at 4 p.m. Monday at the Burkett Sports Complex in Robinson Township.
"It's just great to win," said Fran Posa, who coached the Warriors to their last WPIAL championship in 1976. "You have a .381 batting average as a team and score 11 runs a game, you're going to be hard to beat."