One word describes high school baseball, particularly in Section 3, 6A.
“Crazy,” said Upper St. Clair manager Jerry Malarkey after his Panthers edged Mt. Lebanon, 3-2, one day after the Blue Devils had handed Peters Township its first league loss, a whopping 10-3 defeat.
There is a perfect explanation, however, for such bizarre results and why it is so difficult to predict who will emerge as the section champion let alone who will qualify for the WPIAL postseason, which commences the week of May 13 and concludes with the championships May 28 and May 29 at Wild Things Park in Washington.
“Baseball is not like other sports,” said head coach Tony Fisher, who has Bethel Park (8-2) positioned atop the standings after huge victories against Canon-McMillan, 11-6, and Baldwin, 12-4. “Any team in the section can win on any day.”
“It’s hard to tell how this section will go because the teams are so balanced. It’s always been competitive and even, but it’s the most balanced that I’ve ever seen,” said Malarkey, who has coached USC for 35 years, picking up more than 400 victories along the way. “It’s going to be interesting to see which four teams get in and who will win the section.”
After USC’s win against Lebo April 17, he added that “any team” could.
At the halfway point in the season, Bethel Park should and Canon-McMillan could but predicting that verdict cannot be based on past experiences – the Black Hawks are defending champion while the Big Macs won the PIAA title in 2018.
Bethel Park is tied with Peters Township for first place in the section with 5-1 records.
“The game is not played on paper,” Fisher said. “There are a lot of factors that impact the outcome. Therefore, you have to compete every game.”
Mt. Lebanon manager Patt McCloskey concurred.
“We continue to be focused on treating each game as a one game season,” he said. “We are trying to get as many section wins as possible to try and make the playoffs.”
At the start of the week, only winless Brashear appeared out of the playoff hunt. USC (7-5), Lebo (7-7) and C-M (7-5) were tied for third place. All had 3-3 records and trailed BP and PT by two games for the league lead.
The Hawks and Indians could determine the section winner when they meet at 4 p.m. April 29 at Purkey Field.
The Indians represent BP’s lone league loss. The 2-1 defeat occurred April 8 at Peterswood Park.
However, the Black Hawks dispatched the Big Macs, 11-6, April 16. In that outing, Eric Chalus excelled at the plate and on the mound. The sophomore hurled five innings, striking out eight and allowing a solo home run to Michigan recruit Cam Weston. Offensively, Chalus collected three hits and drove in four runs.
A four-run second inning, highlighted by a two-run single from Brandon Cole, enabled BP to mount an 8-0 lead after five innings. Sean McGowan’s RBI double fueled a two-run third inning. Though C-M scored five times in the sixth, BP answered with three runs to seal the victory.
Against Baldwin April 17, Chalus smashed a two-run homer and Anthony Chiccitt hit a two-run double. McGowan had four hits and Cooper Shoemaker added two safeties.
While juniors McGowan, a center fielder who batted .368 last year, and Cole, a catcher, along with Chalus are again making major contributions to the team, BP is again taking advantage of the talents of Kevin Kogler at third base and on the mound, Anthony Strangis in left field, and Antonio Fontana as a designated hitter.
Along with those veteran starters, the Black Hawks have filled the void at shortstop left with the loss of Justin Meis with Anthony Chiccitt. The junior is an all-round athlete, having also excelled the past two seasons at quarterback in football and as a major contributor in basketball.
Evan Bromley provides another strong arm to the pitching staff. The junior was 3-0 as a reliever last year, but has moved into the starting rotation this season. He earned the win against Baldwin.
Sophomore Josh Peters and senior Shane Clunan add depth on the mound while Shoemaker and freshman Bo Conrad have given the Hawks a strong defensive infield on the right side of the diamond.
“We pride ourselves on our defense,” Fisher said. “Plus, we have a lot of pop throughout our entire line-up. Those are our strengths but as our arms have gained varsity experience, we also have confidence that our pitching staff gives us a chance to win.”
Camaraderie gives Lebo it’s best chance to challenge for the section title after having finished 6-6 in the division and 9-11 overall last spring. The Blue Devils, who earned a playoff spot in 2018 with their third-place showing, registered their biggest win of the season when they toppled Peters Township, 10-3, April 17.
Sophomore Jeffrey Dengler tossed a complete game. He was backed offensively by Justin Duda, Eddie Kubit, Colin Dalson and Cam Powers.
A senior second baseman, Duda smacked two hits, drew two walks and scored three runs. Kubit and Dalson, both junior outfielders, drove in two runs while Powers, a third baseman, drilled a three-run single in the third inning.
The game played at Peterswood Park was a “big road win for the program” said McCloskey because Lebo had played poorly in its loss to BP, 7-4, four days earlier at Wildcat Field.
“I was so proud of my guys because we beat a very good, very well-coached team,” he said. “Our kids have totally brought into what we are trying to do. It’s been a real team effort so far with each player doing everything he can to try and help the team win.
“Our kids really like each other,” McCloskey added. “This is the best team chemistry we have ever had at Mt. Lebanon.”
The Blue Devils have bonded well primarily because they are essentially all newcomers. Shortstop Dante Borris is the only returning starter.
While Jack Palmerine, Clay Petulia, Jack Smith, Cam Knox and Dengler have emerged as aces on a very deep pitching staff that also includes Liam Kerr and Dalson, Dante Borris has powered the offensive attack with his above .500 batting average. Dengler and Powers follow with above .400 averages and Sam LaSota maintains a similar on-base percentage. Duda, Smith, Kubit and Sam Rolfson have also fueled the offense.
The Blue Devils, however, were unable to gain much momentum with the PT win as they dropped the decision to USC the next day.
Casey leads Lebo
With two outs in the top of the sixth, Andrew Casey hit a double that scored Joey Pulit with the game-winning run. Ryan Ghise doubled earlier in the inning and scored on a throwing error in an attempt to catch Pulit stealing second base. Casey’s brother, Jake, hit a triple and scored on Mick Walsh’s ground ball out to second base for USC’s other run.
Nate Hamel pitched six innings before yielding to Eli Shed after facing one batter in the seventh inning.
“Nate did a great job and Eli always battles us out of jams. He was effective,” said Malarkey.
Throughout the spring, the Panthers have been effective because of teamwork and players pushing each other to their maximum effort.
While Pulit (.450) and Grant Walnoha (.343) lead the starters in offense, players like Tyler Berger and Tyler Gleim have maintained batting averages well over the .400 mark. Malarkey has a plethora of bats that he has used as many as four different designated hitters this season.
Defensively, USC starts three seniors in the outfield, anchored by Luke Geisler in center. Walnoha is in left and Pulit in right. Behind the plate, Adam Richter and Harrison Bavaro have shared duties as catchers. Mark Krolczyk and Ryan Ghise help anchor the infield along with Casey and Walsh.
Hamel and Shed may have combined on the mound against Lebo but Robbie Hendrix, Aaron Stephan, Brandon Liokaries and Berger add depth on the pitching staff.
USC has also benefited from the play of Chad Behun, Jeff Warmbein, Rob Hendricks, Bryce Keating and Rahul Nathan.
“We’ve been getting contributions from everybody and we’ve distributed things, offensively, defensively and pitching-wise,” said Malarkey. “Every single kid has helped this team.
“There has been a lot of competition and that’s been good because the players who have been able to handle the pressure best are the guys that get the playing time,” he added. “We’ve been finding the right balance to help us win and it’s paying off because we seem to have gelled against Lebo. We put it together.”
PT beats C-M
Peters Township put it together in the eighth inning to beat Canon-McMillan, 5-1, on April 18 at Wild Things Park in Washington.
Tom Colcombe pitched 7 1/3 innings before yielding to Mark Edenburn. The Pitt recruit allowed eight hits and walked two.
Doubles from Jackson McCloskey, Dom Campagna and Mark Lehman coupled with an intentional walk to Matthew Levy, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly by Dax Ploskina produced four runs for the Indians in the extra inning. Sam Quinn’s sac fly scored Lehman for PT’s initial run in the fourth inning.