2022 WPIAL Class 3A baseball preseason breakdown

Tuesday, March 22, 2022 | 6:18 PM

Last spring was a celebration as district athletes returned to the diamond after the 2020 season was canceled because of covid-19 shutdowns.

Baseball thrived throughout the WPIAL as six new champions were crowned, some in dramatic fashion.

That success carried over to the state playoffs as WPIAL teams captured two PIAA championships and three runner-up trophies.

Here is a rundown of the 2022 preseason top five teams, players to watch and other notes in WPIAL Class 3A baseball.

Preseason Top 5

1. Hopewell (18-6 last season)

The Vikings have reached back-to-back WPIAL championship games (2019 and last year, 2020 was canceled) and edged South Park, 6-5, in the finals last spring. They reached the PIAA quarterfinals before falling to District 6’s Tyrone. Hopewell returns senior shortstop/pitcher Anthony LaSala, a Pitt recruit, as well as senior outfielder Couper Stala (Queens, N.C.), junior first baseman/pitcher Lucas Arington and senior catcher Christopher Mullins (Gannon) but will miss graduated pitcher Roman Gill (Cal, Pa.).

2. South Park (15-6)

Cousins Drew and Austin Lafferty return to lead the WPIAL runner-up Eagles. Senior Drew Lafferty, a Kentucky commit, hit .510 with five homers and 25 RBIs in the regular season last year, and junior Austin Lafferty batted .518 with 15 RBIs. Drew Lafferty also is one of the WPIAL’s top pitching prospects. Senior infielder Coner Klingensmith (Mount Aloysius) also was an all-section selection. Senior pitcher Brandon Clifford is headed to Pitt-Johnstown.

3. McGuffey (15-6)

Senior catcher Logan Siebert returns for McGuffey after earning all-section recognition last season. The Highlanders won the Section 4 title and reached the WPIAL semifinals, as well as qualifying for the PIAA tournament for the first time in program history. Saint Vincent recruit Austin Hall also is an impact player. They will miss graduated all-section pitcher Jake Orr (Seton Hill).

4. Avonworth (15-9)

Senior all-section infielders Jon Bodnar and Jordan Kolenda, a Kent State recruit, are back to lead Section 2 champion Avonworth, which lost to South Park in the semifinals and McGuffey in the third-place consolation game. The Lopes also feature a deep pitching staff with Kolenda, Ethan Tinker, Mason Horwat, Jack Hustwit and Colin Crawford. Senior outfielder Neo Miller is headed to Pitt-Greensburg.

5. Mohawk (11-8)

The Warriors return eight starters, led by senior shortstop/pitcher Cooper Vance, an Eastern Michigan recruit, along with West Liberty commit Brady Harman. Infielder Jay Wrona and catcher A.J. Verdi were Lawrence County all-stars last season with Vance, who hit .406 last season and also was 4-2 with a 0.55 ERA. Coach Nick Maiorano called his senior group “one of the stronger classes to come through Mohawk.”

Players to watch

• Lucas Arrington, Jr., INF, Hopewell

• Anthony LaSala, Sr., INF, Hopewell

• Couper Stala, Sr., OF, Hopewell

• Cooper Vance, Sr., SS/P, Mohawk

• Aaron Elliott, Sr., SS/P, New Brighton

• Ashton Wilson, Sr., OF, Ellwood City

• Jaren Brickner, Jr., CF, Beaver Falls

• Jon Bodnar, Sr., INF, Avonworth

• Jordan Kolenda, Sr., INF/P, Avonworth

• Nathan Brestensky, Sr., INF, Keystone Oaks

• Damon Campano, Sr., INF, South Allegheny

• Coner Klingensmith, Sr., INF, South Park

• Austin Lafferty, Jr., OF, South Park

• Drew Lafferty, Sr., OF, South Park

• Ben Aftanas, Sr., INF/P, Valley

• Aaron Alakson, Sr., INF, Mt. Pleasant

• Hayden Sierocky, Jr., OF, Ligonier Valley

• Justin Brannigan, Sr., OF/P, Deer Lakes

• Logan Siebert, Sr., C, McGuffey

• Lincoln Pack, Jr., INF, Waynesburg

• Mason Switalski, Jr., INF, Waynesburg

• Derrick Tarpley, Jr., OF, Brownsville

• Anthony Govern, Sr., OF, Southmoreland

Class 3A notes

• The top four teams in each Class 3A section qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, which should lead to some exciting battles for seeding throughout the season in the six- and five-team sections.

• Valley went 13-8 last season and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals. The Vikings will look to senior infielder/pitcher and Pitt-Greensburg recruit Ben Aftanas (.463) to lead the way after an all-section campaign. Sophomore Tyler Danko was an all-section honorable mention as a freshman.

Derry (12-5) won its first section title since 1992 a year ago and won its first playoff game since 2005. The Trojans have to replace 10 seniors, including five starters. Senior pitcher Ryan Hood is a Gannon recruit.

• Jason Bush enters his first season leading Ligonier Valley and will rely on seniors Nick Beitel, Grant Dowden (Allegheny), George Golden and Connor Tunstall (Lesley) as well as junior all-section selection Haden Sierocky.

Ellwood City (10-12) returns six starters from a team that finished second in Section 1 at 7-3. Coach Chris Weisz enters his second season and will look for production from all-section outfielder Ashton Wilson, as well as basketball and swimming standouts Alexander and Jo Roth.

• Waynesburg junior infielder Lincoln Pack is a West Virginia commit.

South Allegheny (8-11) returns 10 players with varsity experience after a playoff campaign, including all-section infielder Damon Campano. Infielder Ethan Rendulic hit over .400, and pitcher Brandon Cortes averaged more than a strikeout per inning.

2022 alignment

Section 1: Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Freedom, Hopewell, Mohawk, New Brighton

Section 2: Avonworth, Keystone Oaks, South Allegheny, South Park, Steel Valley

Section 3: Deer Lakes, Derry, East Allegheny, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant, Valley

Section 4: Brownsville, Charleroi, McGuffey, Southmoreland, Waynesburg, Yough

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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