2021 WPIAL Class 6A baseball preseason breakdown

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Wednesday, March 24, 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.

Here is a look at the new district alignment, along with the baseball teams and players to watch in the WPIAL’s largest classification in 2021:

Class 6A

Preseason Top 5

1. Norwin (14-7 in 2019) — The Knights reached the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2019 and have several experienced players returning. They will be led by five Division I recruits — seniors Nick Fleming (Mount St. Mary’s), Eric Chorba (Longwood) and Alex Gabauer (Penn) and juniors Jake Kendro (Tennessee) and Elijah Dunn (Hartford). Fleming was a second-team all-section selection in 2019. They also will feature senior 6-foot-4 pitcher Jayden Walker, who is committed to Division II power Mercyhurst with teammates Landon Diberadin and Jake Bazala.

2. Pine-Richland (19-5) — West Virginia recruit Tommy Beam, a pitcher who helped the Rams capture the 2019 Class 6A title, will be sidelined by injury to start the season. Fellow pitcher Gabe Mustovic (West Virginia Wesleyan) and infielder Kyle Lenhart (Florida Tech) also will be on the shelf to start the year. Jacob McGuire and Tanner Singh will anchor the staff. Infielders Sean Connelly (John Carroll), Chase Vrabel (Wilkes) and Kyle Kimoto (Pitt-Bradford), as well as Singh, catcher Joey Woodrow (Juniata) and junior DH Tyler Armstrong (Mount St. Mary’s) will solidify the lineup.

3. North Allegheny (19-7) — The Tigers were PIAA semifinalists in 2019 and return a talented lineup, including junior shortstop Cole Young, a Duke recruit who hit .414 as a freshman, and senior outfielder Logan Andreyko, a Case Western recruit who hit .306 in 2019. Senior outfielder Joe Manesiotis is a Mercyhurst commit, and sophomore shortstop Spencer Barnett, a West Virginia recruit, will get his first varsity action.

4. Central Catholic (10-8) — Central Catholic will look to contend behind a number of Division I recruits in Brett Palmer (Lehigh), Joe Pilewski (Pitt), Will Ray (Wake Forest), Austyn Winkleblech (Pitt) and Jack Pawlowicz (St. Bonaventure), as well as Eli Harpalani, who will play at Division II Seton Hill.

5. Seneca Valley (13-7) — The Raiders, who reached the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2019, will lean on the senior pitcher-catcher combo of Carter Beneigh, a Mercyhurst recruit, and Clayton Blucher, who has committed to catch at Gardner-Webb. Senior Ethan Edkins is headed to Slippery Rock. The veteran roster features 10 seniors and six juniors.

Players to watch

Logan Andreyko, Sr., OF, North Allegheny

Spencer Barnett, So., SS, North Allegheny

Tommy Beam, Sr., P, Pine-Richland

Carter Beneigh, Sr., P, Seneca Valley

Clayton Blucher, Sr., C, Seneca Valley

Noah Burke, Sr., OF, Canon-McMillan

Tyler Casciato, Sr., INF, Central Catholic

Jake Casey, Sr., INF, Upper St. Clair

Eric Chorba, Sr., INF, Norwin

Brandon Coughlin, Jr., P/OF, Hempfield

Elijah Dunn, Jr., OF, Norwin

Phil Fox, Sr., P/OF, Hempfield

Alex Gabauer, Sr., INF, Norwin

Tyler Greenleaf, Sr., P, Canon-McMillan

Eli Harpalani, Sr., SS, Central Catholic

Jake Kendro, Jr., INF, Norwin

Max Mandler, Sr., P/INF, Upper St. Clair

Brett Palmer, Sr., P, Central Catholic

Jack Pawlowicz, Sr., C, Central Catholic

Robert Phelps, Jr., SS, Allderdice

Joe Pilewski, Sr., C, Central Catholic

Will Ray, Sr., 3B, Central Catholic

Tyler Smith, So., P, Mt. Lebanon

Ty Stecko, Jr., C, Norwin

Chase Vrabel, Sr., INF, Pine-Richland

Jayden Walker, Sr., P, Norwin

Austyn Winkleblech, So., OF, Central Catholic

Cole Young, Jr., SS, North Allegheny

Notable

• Pine-Richland defeated Penn-Trafford, 7-2, in the 2019 WPIAL Class 6A title game. The Rams have won two of the past three Class 6A titles. North Allegheny was the third-place finisher and a PIAA qualifier in 2019. Penn-Trafford, and semifinalist Bethel Park, have since dropped to Class 5A, along with Connellsville, Plum, Latrobe, Peters Township and Brashear.

• PIAA realignment has trimmed Class 6A to 12 teams over two sections, down from 19 teams broken into three sections from the last two-year cycle.

• Upper St. Clair’s Jerry Malarkey (426-201) enters his 39th season coaching at the high school level. The Panthers will rely on seniors Jake Casey (Kent State), Max Mandler (Seton Hill) and Josh Brufsky (Castelton State); juniors Eddie Albert, Brandon Liokareas and Mateo Cepullio; and sophomore Ty Lagoni.

• Hempfield returns four players from its 2019 roster, including senior pitcher/outfielder Phil Fox, a Gardner-Webb recruit, and senior pitcher/infielder Christian Zilli, who will play at Seton Hill. Junior pitcher/outfielder Brandon Coughlin (Lehigh) also returns, along with senior infielder Michael Hosni, who was an all-section pick in 2019.

• Canon-McMillan, the 2018 WPIAL champion, will look to senior pitchers Noah Burke, a Penn State recruit, and Tyler Greenleaf, a Canisius recruit, as well as senior infielder Kolson DeSocio (Alderson-Broaddus).

• Allderdice, which finished 3-9 in 2019, will feature Ole Miss recruit Robert Phelps, a junior shortstop.

• Mt. Lebanon 6-1 sophomore lefty Tyler Smith has yet to play in a varsity game but throws in the high 80s and has already committed to Auburn.

Alignment

Section 1: Allderdice, Butler, Central Catholic, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley

Section 2: Baldwin, Canon-McMillan, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon, Norwin, Upper St. Clair

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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