UPPER ST. CLAIR – Six days before a first-round game, Canon-McMillan High School baseball coach Tim Bruzdewicz didn’t hesitate deciding on his starting pitcher for the Big Macs’ opener.
Bruzdewicz was going to ride senior Zach Rohaley as far as the pitch limit was willing to allow.
It paid off.
Dancing in and out of danger through the first three innings, when fourth-seeded Canon-McMillan failed to get a hit, Rohaley kept the Big Macs in the game until their offensive eventually came through with enough help in the later innings to defeat No. 13-seed Norwin, 2-0, in a WPIAL Class 6A playoff game at Boyce Mayview Park.
Canon-McMillan (14-5) advances to play fifth-seeded Plum, which defeated Mt. Lebanon 3-1, at a site and time to be determined Monday.
Rohaley kept the bases loaded without surrendering a run in the first inning. He was able to get help in the second inning, when the Knights botched a delayed-steal play at home. Then, C-M right fielder Brandon Kline threw out a runner trying to score to keep the game scoreless through four innings.
“We feel when (Rohaley) is on the mound, we are the best team in the WPIAL,” Bruzdewicz said. “That’s just the way we feel. We put him in a couple of spots, but he did a great job at keeping his composure.”
Norwin stranded a runner in every inning, 10 for the game and six in the first three frames.
“On the bus ride up, we said that if we could hold them to two runs we would have a pretty good chance,” said Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski. “I think we had an opportunity but made mistakes on the bases. We just couldn’t string a couple of big hits together when we needed them.”
The Big Macs’ bats finally came alive and found holes in a stingy Norwin (7-8) defense, as Cam Walker led off the fourth inning with a double, Ian Hess singled and Nick Serafino broke the scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly to left field. They then added an insurance run in the fifth, when Greydon Piechnick laced a triple down the first-base line to score Rohaley and give C-M a 2-0 lead.
“I knew that our bats were going to come through,” Rohaley said. “We didn’t have a hit through the first three innings but were making solid contact. I just had to keep my mind straight, going after hitters and keeping us in the ballgame.”
Rohaley went 5 2/3 innings, scattering nine hits, striking out six and surrendering no runs to earn the victory. Cam Weston, who came on in relief for Rohaley with two outs in the sixth, struck out four of the five hitters he faced to earn the save.
“We know what we have with Rohaley,” Bruzdewicz said. “With Cam Weston it’s been up and down. We have been working with him a lot, and if he can get going, we are going to be tough.”
Norwin was led by freshman catcher Ronnie Howard, who played on the Youngstown, Ohio, Pony baseball team last season. Howard went 3-for-3 with three singles.
Pine-Richland 5, Peters Township 1: Pine-Richland’s Matt Wood was the lightning to go along with the thunder surrounding the baseball complex at Boyce Mayview Park.
Wood had a pair of two-run hits to lead sixth-seeded Pine Richland to a 5-1 victory over No. 11-seed Peters Township in a WPIAL Class 6A first-round playoff game.
The first backbreaking hit Wood had against the Indians – a two-run single under the diving glove of the PT first baseman to score Wesley Byrd and Josh Johnson – gave Pine-Richland a 2-1 lead in the third inning. Wood extended the Rams lead to 4-1 in the fifth by driving in another two runs on a triple down the right-field line.
“It’s part of baseball,” said PT coach Joe Maize on the perfectly placed hits for Pine-Richland.
“If you go back and look at the close ballgames we lost, it came down to a play here and there. One of our coaches said earlier that we must have made the baseball Gods mad because we aren’t getting the breaks. If we could get a key hit, then maybe we build enough momentum to carry us through.”
After Pine-Richland (14-6) added another run after Jake Maley stole home, the game was stopped with no outs in the top of the sixth inning because of lighting and thunder. The delay lasted just under an hour before play was resumed.
Peters Township (11-10) opened the scoring in the first inning when Colin Caven hit a double deep into the right-field corner to score Dax Ploskina. But the Indians’ offense struggled the remainder of the night, being retired in order three times and only having one player reach second base.
“Our wins happened when we got guys in scoring position and get a key base hit,” Maize said. “The first two innings we get guys in scoring position, we were hitting the ball right on the nose but it was right at people. Give credit to (Pine-Richland’s pitcher Matt Schietroma). He was getting ahead in counts and was able to work the corners, forcing us to hit his pitch.”
Schietroma settled in after PT scored an unearned run in the first inning. He only allowed one hit in the final four innings – four hits for the game – and struck out six to earn the complete-game victory.
Steel Valley 15, Charleroi 0, 3 innings: Eighth-seeded Steel Valley collected eight hits and scored eight runs before No. 9-seed Charleroi could record an out as the Ironmen went on to defeat the Cougars in three innings, 15-0, in a WPIAL Class 3A playoff game.
The Ironmen scored nine total runs in the first inning as each batter in their lineup reached base safely in the first, creating a merry-go-round on the base paths. Four players for Steel Valley had RBI singles in the opening frame, while the No. 9 hitter, Mason Kelly, hit a two-run single to right field to give the Ironmen an 8-0 lead. Kelly later came around to score on a sacrifice fly to left field.
“We are letting routine pop-ups fall in,” said Charleroi coach Luke Mollis. “You can’t give teams, especially good teams, four or five outs an inning. If you don’t make plays in the field you don’t have a chance. Some of those plays are routine that we are letting fall in, which starts a snowball effect.”
After scoring on an error in the second inning, Steel Valley (11-7) then added five runs, including four on a pair of triples, in the third to reach the 15-run mercy rule. Andrew Good’s bases-clearing triple began the scoring in the inning for the Ironmen, who advance to play top-seeded Riverside Monday at a site and time to be determined.
The lone extra-base hit for Charleroi (11-6) was a double by Keaton Riley to centerfield. Riley also suffered the loss on the mound for the Cougars.
“(Steel Valley) hit the ball great,” Mollis said. “There were a couple of plays we could have made to stop the big innings. It’s demoralizing for a pitcher to go out there and see guys not make plays they should be making.”