2021 WPIAL Class 4A baseball preseason breakdown

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Friday, March 26, 2021 | 8:01 AM


WPIAL baseball players have been waiting nearly two seasons to get back on the field of play after the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to cancel the entire 2020 campaign.

With the 2021 season moving forward, district players are eager to showcase their skills and lead their teams to the postseason.

Check out the WPIAL Class 6A and 5A previews.

Here is a look at the new district alignment, along with the baseball teams and players to watch in WPIAL Class 4A in 2021:

Class 4A

Preseason Top 5

1. New Castle (12-11 in 2019) — The Red Hurricanes reached the PIAA quarterfinals in 2019 and return a talented group of players to again contend in the WPIAL and beyond. Senior pitcher/first baseman Rocco Bernadina is a Kent State recruit who was 7-1 with a 1.11 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 2019, and sophomore shortstop/pitcher Anthony Miller has committed to Notre Dame. Senior first baseman/designated hitter Logan Gibson (.353) and junior second baseman/pitcher Dante Micaletti also are returning starters.

2. Blackhawk (16-6) — The Cougars were 2019 WPIAL runners-up and have a tradition of success with three WPIAL championships, including the most recent in 2017. They return three starters from 2019 — senior catcher Luke Price, junior shortstop Ryan Jones and senior outfielder Ryan McClymonds. Blackhawk will also rely on junior pitcher/first baseman Talon Mihalinac and senior pitcher/outfielder Alex Tomsic, who transferred in from now-closed Quigley Catholic. Longtime assistant coach Lou Wolber takes over for veteran coach Bob Amalia, who died of cancer in November. Wolber coached with Amalia for the past 25 years.

3. Belle Vernon (10-8) — Belle Vernon will rely on Gardner-Webb recruit Garrett Greco, a senior shortstop who hit .328 as a sophomore, as well as a crew of lefty pitchers led by junior Andrew Sokol, along with seniors Andrew Kostelnik and Peyton Rothey and freshman Colton Lee. Junior Matt Bamford also will be part of the rotation.

4. Greensburg Salem (14-3) — The Golden Lions were the top seed for the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs in 2019, but only one player returns from that squad — junior shortstop Hayden Teska, who was a catcher on that team. Senior third baseman Zach O’Bryan will anchor the lineup.

5. Montour (11-10) — Radford recruit Gannon Kadlecik returns to lead Montour, which dropped down from Class 5A after finishing 11-10 in 2019. Kadlecik is a senior pitcher/outfielder who was an all-section selection as a sophomore.

Players to watch

Rocco Bernadina, Sr., P/1B, New Castle

Gage Fuller, Jr., P, Ringgold

Garrett Greco, Sr., SS, Belle Vernon

Austin Homer, Sr., OF, Indiana

Gannon Kadlecik, Sr., OF, Montour

Anthony Miller, So., SS/P, New Castle

Jett Slepak, Jr., P, Highlands

Andrew Sokol, Jr., P, Belle Vernon

Eli Sutton, Jr., C, Knoch

Hayden Teska, Jr., SS, Greensburg Salem

Notable

• Beaver defeated Blackhawk, 13-2, to win the WPIAL Class 4A title in 2019.

• Twenty teams are split among three sections in Class 4A. There were 22 teams over three sections in the last two-year PIAA alignment cycle. Among the changes are Thomas Jefferson moved up to 5A. McKeesport moved to 6A. Derry, Mt. Pleasant, South Park and Yough moved down to 3A. Obama Academy is not competing in the WPIAL this season. Joining 4A are Laurel Highlands and Montour (from 5A) and Burrell, Freeport and North Catholic (from 3A).

• Ringgold will start six sophomores but has a talented lineup to contend in Section 3. Junior pitcher Gage Fuller was 2-1 with a 3.05 ERA in 2019.

• Laurel Highlands was the Class 5A runner-up in 2019 and has dropped down this season, though the Mustangs were hit hard by graduation.

• Freeport also was hit hard by graduation, losing 11 seniors last spring after the group went 15-7 in 2019. This year’s group includes four seniors and three juniors with lots of prospects in the sophomore and junior class.

• Highlands features an experienced pitching staff led by junior Mount St. Mary’s recruit Jett Slepak, along with senior Trent Bielak, juniors Tanner Nulph and Ethan Hewitt and sophomore Jimmy Kunst.

• Burrell will rely on a young pitching staff in its move up to Class 4A, including juniors Phil Walsh, Joey Druga and Tristan Kenzevich and senior Forrest Primm. Center fielder Colby Christie also returns.

• Led by first-year coach Bradley Bestic, Knoch returns four starters, including junior catcher Eli Sutton. Bestic led now-closed Vincentian Academy to a 35-9 record over three seasons, including 2018 WPIAL and PIAA Class A titles.

• Indiana returns four starters, including senior pitcher/outfielder Austin Homer, an IUP commit, as well as junior Lincoln Trusal. The Little Indians also expect contributions from promising sophomores Gavin Homer and Steven Budash and freshman Ben Ryan.

Alignment

Section 1: Burrell, Freeport, Highlands, Indiana, Knoch, North Catholic

Section 2: Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Montour, New Castle, Quaker Valley

Section 3: Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Greensburg Salem, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Uniontown, West Mifflin

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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