Predicting the winner in the WPIAL Class 6A baseball tournament, which commences with first-round action May 13, is like betting on the Kentucky Derby.
Section champions like Bethel Park, Pine-Richland and Penn-Trafford could be compared to Maximum Security while Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair could be considered longs shots like Country House.
“It’s impossible to predict who will win,” said Lebo manager Patt McCloskey. “We accomplished our first goal, which was to make the playoffs in a very tough section and our entire non-section schedule was against top playoff teams. So we saw a lot of good teams. It’s a single elimination tournament so anything can happen.”
USC manager Jerry Malarkey said the three section winners are “very strong.”
“The field is well balanced,” he said.
The Panthers and Blue Devils each beat Peters Township in the final week of the regular season to prevent the Indians from claiming a Section 3 title. BP, which lost twice in extra innings to the Indians, won the division with a 10-2 record while PT followed in second place at 9-3.
“Our guys are happy about notching a second consecutive section title,” Bethel Park head coach Tony Fisher said. “However, they’re focused on the playoffs now. It’s a hungry group, still looking to leave their mark but I’ve learned from experience that every team in the playoffs is good and sometimes you need to be lucky.”
Fisher said the Black Hawks were “terribly unlucky” last year losing a heartbreaker to North Allegheny, 3-1, in last year’s quarterfinals.
In that loss, BP pitching struck out 16 batters.
BP used an 8-0 win over Canon-McMillan and a 5-1 victory against Baldwin to seal the section title.
Evan Bromley tossed a three-hitter against the Highlanders to improve to 7-0 on the season.
Cooper Shoemaker drove in three runs and Anthony Strangis had two hits. Strangis, Brandon Cole, Schoemker and Anthony Chiccitt strung together doubles to produce three critical runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Eric Chalus earned the shutout against the Big Macs, fanning five and scattering five hits. Trevor Morris had two circus catches in center field to preserve the shutout.
“They were terrific,” Fisher said. “Those catches were game-changers.”
A two-run double by Chiccitt coupled with hits from David Kessler and Kevin Kogler produced six runs in the third inning. A two-run single by Strangis highlighted the seventh inning.
USC sealed its playoff berth and claim as a dark horse to win its first district championship since 1992 with a 5-1 win over Peters Township and a 3-2 victory over Mt. Lebanon at Boyce-Mayview Park, which is often used as a WPIAL playoff venue.
In the Lebo win, Jack Beggy and Ryan Ghise cranked out two hits. Beggy drove in two and Mick Walsh had an RBI. Nate Hamel scattered four hits and struck out two before yielding to Aaron Stephan, who earned the win on the mound.
“I think we are peaking at the right time,” Malarkey said. “We have played two very solid games in a row and have been able to win close games. I believe we are prepared mentally and from a performance standpoint for the playoffs.”
Meanwhile, Lebo will take advantage of its second chance. After beating PT, the Blue Devils lost to USC, but entered the playoffs thanks to C-M’s 4-2 loss to PT.
“I’m glad our kids, especially the seniors, have an opportunity to experience the playoffs,” McCloskey said. “We now have a chance to compete for a WPIAL championship. I’m very proud of our kids for beating Peters because they are really good and we had to win that game. Now, we will do everything in our power to be ready for the playoffs.”
Jeff Dengler earned the win against PT, allowing five hits and striking out four. Lebo scored all four of its runs in the third. Cam Powers tripled and scored on Eddie Kubit’s bunt. Paul Linkowski singled and scored on Colin Dalson’s RBI. Jack Smith then doubled in Dalson.
In the loss to USC, Cam Knox pitched 62/3 solid innings. Dante Borris doubled and scored on Kubit’s base hit. Smith drove in Lebo’s other run.
While the WPIAL announced its baseball playoff schedule after press time, the softball pairings are set.
In Class 6A, Upper St. Clair will play North Allegheny at 5 p.m. May 15 at West Allegheny and Bethel Park will battle Norwin at 4 p.m. May 15 at Gateway.
In Class 5A, South Fayette will play Albert Gallatin at 6 p.m. May 14 at Trinity.