2021 WPIAL Class 5A baseball preseason breakdown

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Thursday, March 25, 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 a WPIAL Class 6A preview here.

Here is a look at the new district alignment, along with the baseball teams and players to watch in WPIAL Class 5A in 2021:

Class 5A

Preseason Top 5

1. West Allegheny (18-3 in 2019) — The Indians, who were the No. 1 seed for the Class 5A playoffs in 2019, are loaded with Division I recruits and boast a talented pitching staff. The group includes junior pitcher/shortstop Gavin Miller, an Auburn recruit, and senior catcher/pitcher Luke Lambert, a Pitt recruit. Each was a first-team all-section selection in 2019. Miller was 7-1 with a 1.56 ERA in 2019. West Allegheny also will feature senior pitcher Zach Stayduhar, a Youngstown State commit, and junior outfielder/pitcher Devan Zirwas, who is headed to VCU and can reach 90 mph on the mound.

2. Mars (12-10) — WPIAL semifinalists in 2019, the Fightin’ Planets have a talented core returning. The group includes three Division I prospects — senior shortstop J.J. Wetherholt (West Virginia), senior catcher Teddy Ruffner (UNC-Wilmington) and sophomore first baseman Pete Craska (Georgia Tech). Wetherholt hit .500 with four homers and 22 RBIs as a sophomore when he was the Class 5A Player of the Year. Ruffner (.302, 12 RBIs) was a second-team all-section selection in 2019. In addition, senior pitcher Alex Heavner is a Marietta recruit, and senior outfielder Mitchell Schultz is bound for Case Western.

3. Franklin Regional (19-3) — The Panthers advanced to the state playoffs for the first time in 18 years in 2019, and they return several key players who helped them find success. Senior pitchers Andrew Muraco (Coastal Carolina) and Brian Pirone (Seton Hill) return. Muraco was 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 2019. Senior infielder Louis Kegerreis, who hit .430 with 22 RBIs, and junior catcher Thomas Nicely were second-team all-section picks in 2019. Senior first baseman Tim Quinn is a Mercyhurst recruit, and senior pitcher Luke Treloar is headed to Cal (Pa.).

4. Bethel Park (15-5) — The Black Hawks, who reached the WPIAL semifinals in 2019, were among the favorites to win the Class 6A title a year ago, and several players from that roster return. The senior-heavy group is led by senior pitcher Eric Chalus, a Kent State recruit who was an all-section honoree in 2019 after going 6-2 with a 1.13 ERA. Senior outfielder Larry Kusan (Davis & Elkins) and senior catcher Zack Sackett (Geneva) also are back.

5. Penn-Trafford (18-5) — The Warriors lost in the 2019 WPIAL Class 6A title game to Pine-Richland and then fell in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. But several current players were part of that team that gained valuable experience. The group includes senior pitchers Tyler Hoover (Canisius) and Joey MacIntosh (Cal, Pa.).

Players to watch

Eric Chalus, Sr., P, Bethel Park

Tyler Cote, Sr., C, North Hills

Pete Craska, So., 1B, Mars

Adam Dembowski, Jr., CF, Hampton

Drew Garth, Sr., OF, North Hills

Gage Gillott, Sr., P, Connellsville

Tyler Hoover, Sr., P, Penn-Trafford

Louis Kegerreis, Sr., INF, Franklin Regional

Chase Krewson, So., OF, South Fayette

Luke Lambert, Sr., C/P, West Allegheny

Gavin Miller, Jr., SS/P, West Allegheny

Andrew Muraco, Sr., P, Franklin Regional

Jackson Natili, So., C, Peters Township

Brian Pirone, Sr., P, Franklin Regional

Drew Ripepi, Jr., 3B, Peters Township

Teddy Ruffner, Sr., C, Mars

Zach Stayduhar, Sr., P, West Allegheny

J.J. Wetherholt, Sr., SS/P, Mars

Josh Zambito, Sr., C, Penn Hills

Devan Zirwas, Jr., OF/P, West Allegheny

Notable

• Shaler defeated Laurel Highlands, 8-1, to win the 2019 WPIAL Class 5A title.

• There are 25 baseball teams across four sections in WPIAL Class 5A, up from 20 teams over three sections in the last two-year PIAA alignment cycle. WPIAL finalist Penn-Trafford and semifinalist Bethel Park dropped to Class 5A from 6A, along with Connellsville, Plum, Latrobe and Peters Township. McKeesport and Thomas Jefferson moved up a class to 5A. Laurel Highlands and Montour dropped to Class 4A. Carrick is not competing in the WPIAL this season.

• Peters Township finished 13-7 in Class 6A two years ago and will try and make a run in Class 5A behind a pair of Division I players — junior third baseman Drew Ripepi (Pitt) and sophomore catcher Jackson Natili (Rutgers).

• Plum missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005 two years ago, but the Mustangs look to get back in postseason contention behind a balanced lineup, led by senior first baseman and Seton Hill recruit Matt Frazetta and senior catcher Ethan Kircher.

• North Hills will battle in Section 3 behind Seton Hill recruit Drew Garth and Chatham-bound catcher Tyler Cote, along with junior outfielder Robert Dickerson and sophomore infielder/pitcher Walt Vitovich.

• Junior center fielder Adam Dembowski, a Division I prospect, returns to lead Hampton after he hit .357 as a freshman.

• South Fayette features a talented sophomore outfielder in Chase Krewson, who has committed to Notre Dame despite not yet playing varsity baseball.

• Senior outfielder Preston Zandier and senior catcher Marco Gambino lead the way for Thomas Jefferson, which was bumped up to Class 5A after winning the Section 3-4A title with a 13-6 record.

• Latrobe will look to veteran seniors Tucker Knupp and Drew Clair, along with Rayce King, to lead the way as it drops down to Class 5A.

• Senior catcher Zach Streightif (Slippery Rock) and senior shortstop/pitcher Eli Wiles return to lead Armstrong, which hopes to contend in Section 2.

• Connellsville senior pitcher Gage Gillott is a Division I South Carolina Upstate recruit.

• Penn Hills returns Maine recruit Josh Zambito, a senior catcher, who was an all-section pick in 2019.

• Trinity senior outfielder Forrest Havanis, a Marietta recruit, returns after earning all-section honors in 2019.

Alignment

Section 1: Franklin Regional, Gateway, Kiski Area, Latrobe, McKeesport, Penn-Trafford

Section 2: Armstrong, Fox Chapel, Hampton, Mars, Penn Hills, Plum, Woodland Hills

Section 3: Chartiers Valley, Moon, North Hills, Shaler, South Fayette, West Allegheny

Section 4: Albert Gallatin, Bethel Park, Connellsville, Peters Township, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity

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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