Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Bethel Park enter the WPIAL Baseball Playoffs on solid footing.
The Blue Devils and Indians have won sectional banners with 9-1 ratings in their respective standings while the Black Hawks are the defending state champions.
Lebo has some history on his side as the Blue Devils embark on a quest for a Class 6A championship. The Blue Devils were state champions in 1998 as well as WPIAL winners in 1959, 1993, 2002 and 2006. They were runners-up in 2001 and 2012.
Pat McCloskey knows the challenges of reproducing history. Lebo’s manager played for the Blue Devils and was a member of this state championship club.
“Any team in this tournament can win the title,” he said. “We will face a championship-caliber team at every turn.”
North Allegheny is the defending Class 6A champion. The Tigers tied Pine-Richland for the Division 1 banner with a 7-3 record. Central Catholic took third, and Butler and Seneca Valley are tied for fourth and final playoff spot.
Upper St. Clair, Hempfield and Norwin out of Section 2, completed the playoff field.
The Blue Devils swept the Panthers and Knights but separated from the Spartans in section action. They beat NA and Pine but lost to Seneca Valley and Butler in a no-section game.
Lebo finished 12-7 on aggregate and ended the regular season action with a 1-0 triumph over Chartiers Valley, who advanced to the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs with South Fayette.
In the triumph, Jack Smith struck out 10 and allowed just one hit and one walk.
Tanner Donati scored the only point. After picking the first goal of the game, he went two goals ahead on wild throws and headed home on an error.
“Our pitchers hit and gave us a chance every game,” McCloskey said. “We have to keep improving the way we hit, play defense and head goals,” he added if the Blue Devils are to succeed in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Peters Township have been impressive on their way to a 17-1 regular season record. The only loss, a 7-6 loss to Albert Gallatin, followed a sweep against Bethel Park.
The Indians ended the regular season with wins over Hempfield, 7-5, and USC, 7-1.
Columbia rookies Sam Miller and Jack Kail were two of PT’s many leaders. Miller is a standout pitcher while Kail, who had four hits against USC, anchors the defense at shortstop.
“Sam had a great season and Jack was amazing in short,” PT manager Rocky Plassio said.
Wes Parker is another ace on the PT’s pitching staff along with Tucker Ferris, Bryce Thompson and Luke Markowski.
Against USC, Parker pitched four innings, striking out six, for the win. Offensively, he had two hits and two RBIs while Drew Ripepi scored three hits and drove in a pair of runs.
Thompson threw three scoreless frames in relief from Parker. He withdrew three while recovering the stoppage.
Overall, Ferris, who anchors the outfield with Thompson and Nick Sampson, is 4-0 with an 0.88 ERA.
“We had many leaders in this team,” Plassio said. “Our pitchers have all been really strong on the mound and we’ve had consistent hitting all season and our defense has been terrific.”
The Indians enter the playoffs confident for these reasons as well as the fact that they faced stiff competition.
“I feel like our kids have played a really solid schedule that should help prepare them for what’s to come,” Plassio said. “I’m confident in our group that we can be very competitive in the tournament.”
PT’s attention span will fuel playoff success. As they prepared for the post-season, the Indians honed the finer aspects of their game, especially base running and situational hitting.
“We have to understand that we have to focus on every situation that is presented to us, pay attention to the small details and not allow ourselves to be complacent at all times. We cannot afford to have errors of judgment or concentration and we must capitalize on the opportunities that our opponents present to us.
“If we can maintain our focus and stick to our approach, we should have a good chance of succeeding. We look forward to the opportunity to compete with the rest of the peloton. This should hopefully be a lot of fun.
Bethel Park, meanwhile, hopes to replicate last year’s success. The Hawks rebounded from a loss in the WPIAL Championship Game and captured the PIAA title.
Many elements from last year contributed to a 14-2 regular season. The only losses were in Peters Township.
“Now that we are in the playoffs, the success we had last year can be a plus. The players can use and build confidence in the big moments to come,” said BP skipper Pat Zehnder.
“The 5A field is extremely deep. So everyone should be ready for a dogfight in the first round. Everyone has a target on their back, because it’s a lose-and-go-home scenario. So, I don’t think it matters if a team faces the reigning state champions at this point. Everything is online. No one wants to go home until they have reached the top of the mountain.
Although the Hawks didn’t win the sectional title, Zehnder is pleased with how his players were able to perform at their best while taking the best shot from their opponents.
Evan Holewinski led a strong pitching team that included Nathan Vargo, Ryan Walsh, Nick Gasper, Evan LeJeune, Sebastian Schein, Cody Geddes and Will Sokira.
Holewinski enters the playoffs with a 6-0 record and a 1.09 ERA. He has 32 strikeouts in 32 innings.
Geddes is the leading hitter with a .438 average that includes seven doubles, two triples and two homers. He has 17 runs and 13 RBIs.
Ben Hudson (.366) and Bo Conrad (.390) lead the team with 16 RBIs each, followed by David Kessler and John Chalus (.348) with 15 and 13 respectively.
Ray Altmeyer and Dylan Schmude provide some pop in the range with their averages of .364 and .386.
“Pitching continues to be a strength,” Zehnder said. “Offensively we are doing a great job of working quality at bats and finding ways to be productive. This will be important because we will face high quality weapons in the playoffs.
“The defense is still performing at a high level,” continued Zehnder. “It will be important against such a deep field of 5A hitters.”