Fourteen local high school baseball teams begin, over the next two days, what they hope is a long run to a WPIAL championship.
With the finals scheduled for May 29 and 30 at Wild Things Park, here is what might happen in the postseason:
This was the hardest classification in which to not only pick a champion but also to narrow down to who will play for the title.
With pitch-count rules playing a huge factor in the playoffs, teams with an ace pitcher – Canon-McMillan, Bethel Park and Central Catholic – still need to have secondary pitching to make a run.
The Big Macs’ 13-5 record earned them the highest seed, the No. 4 spot, of any team that didn’t win a section. But unlike the top three seeds, Central Catholic, Bethel Park and Hempfield, they didn’t earn a bye and will play Norwin at 4:30 p.m. today at Boyce Mayview Park. This leaves C-M coach Tim Bruzdewicz with a decision: pitch senior Zach Rohaley or roll the dice with one of his other starters and save his ace for a potential quarterfinal game. Rohaley is 8-1 with a 0.88 ERA and has struck out 62 batters in 48 innings.
Top-seeded Central Catholic has right-hander Marshall McGraw, who dominated opponents with a 9-0 record and a 1.04 ERA. Bethel Park features Eastern Michigan commit Justin Meis on the mound. Meis is 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA and the Black Hawks have won 14 straight games.
Peters Township, winner of four of its last five, will take on an equally hot team in Pine-Richland. The Rams have won six of their last seven games.
Peters Township will stay in its opening game because that’s what Pine-Richland seems to enjoy, playing in nail-biters with seven of its games being decided by one run. Playing close games has been Peters Township’s kryptonite as the Indians are 2-5 in games decided two or fewer runs.
Result: The consistency of Meis and other starting pitchers for Bethel Park, including freshman Eric Chalus, gives it the edge over Canon-McMillan in the championship game for the program’s first WPIAL title since 1987.
Trinity will have to gas up by going even farther north than its first-round opponent, Mars. The two play at Seneca Valley today (2 p.m.).
The Hillers qualified for the playoffs in their must-win section finale against Montour. Trinity (5-9) has won three of its last four.
Topping Mars will be a difficult task, especially if the Fightin’ Planets decide to pitch Will Bednar. The 6-1 right-hander, an Ohio State recruit, is 6-0 with a 0.55 ERA for fifth-seeded Mars. He has double-digit strikeout totals in each of his last five starts, and opponents are batting only .163 against him.
The two top teams in the classification, top-seeded Moon and second-seeded West Allegheny, are the favorites, but could receive some difficult games from North Hills and Laurel Highlands.
Result: West Allegheny avenges its only loss of the season against Moon in the finals.
The largest representation of local teams with high seeds is in Class 4A. Ringgold and South Fayette both earned byes into the quarterfinal round.
The Rams and Lions each could make a run at the championship, which signals the strides each program has made. Ringgold had missed the playoffs for 11 straight seasons until qualifying last year. South Fayette, meanwhile, failed to qualify for the postseason last year after a dreadful second half of the regular season.
Ringgold has seven regulars batting .300 or better. Pitchers Ryan Varley, Bo Haines and Chase Angotti each have at least four wins and ERA’s under 2.00.
South Fayette coach Ken Morgan said selflessness makes his group special as there is a “no-I-in-team” mentality for the Lions. Nine players have a batting average over .300, led by Ryan Kokoski (.500).
Ringgold will likely face prohibitive favorite and top-seeded Blackhawk, in the semifinals. Knoch, who won the PIAA Class 3A title in 2015, could also make another long playoff run.
Result: This would be considered the biggest upset pick in both baseball and softball. It’s extremely difficult to defeat a team three times, especially if the two are close to evenly matched. Blackhawk has escaped two games against South Fayette with one-run wins, but not the third time. The Lions go from missing the playoffs to WPIAL champions.
The top three seeds – Riverside, Avonworth and South Side Beaver – are from Section 2. That section will have the champion, it’s just deciding which of those three teams it will be.
Waynesburg enters the postseason with three straight impressive wins, outscoring opponents 27-5. The Raiders’ top five hitters are underclassmen, setting them up for a promising future. They will advance past the first round because no team, other than fourth-seeded Brownsville, had an easy time against the Raiders.
Charleroi lost its final two games. The Cougars started the season 7-0.
Result: Riverside wins its third consecutive WPIAL championship.
Fort Cherry baseball coach Bob Sawhill might have said it best about his team, stating that the Rangers aren’t as good as some think they are, but aren’t as bad as others may think. That seems to be the way many Section 1 teams – champion Carmichaels, Fort Cherry, Chartiers-Houston and California – have been evaluated. It was hard to determine who was going to win on any given day in Section 1.
Carmichaels has a bye as the fourth seed.
Result: Serra Catholic is the team to beat.
West Greene and Monessen are the only local teams in the field.
It’s been a long time coming for the Pioneers, who have waiting since 1993 to make the postseason. The streak is similar to the one the Pioneers’ football team broke last fall. They play Cornell, the No. 9 seed, Wednesday at Peterswood Park (4 p.m.). Cornell won six of its last seven games.
Monessen coach Bill Matush has the Greyhounds rolling entering the postseason for the second straight year. Seven Monessen players, including seniors Nick Baker (.514) and Antonio Rhome (.500), have at least .300 batting averages. The Greyhounds play Western Beaver, winner in the first round.
Result: Vincentian Academy and Union, two section foes that split one-run games in the regular season, will play round three in the WPIAL championship. I’ll take second-seeded Union to win the title.
Staff writer Luke Campbell can be reached at lcampbell@observer-Reporter.com.