2022 WPIAL Class 4A baseball preseason breakdown

Monday, March 21, 2022 | 10:16 PM

Last spring was a celebration as district athletes returned to the diamonds 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 4A baseball.

Preseason top 5

1. Blackhawk (16-6 last season)

Ten years ago, Blackhawk won the 2012 WPIAL Class 3A baseball title thanks to a young man named Brendan McKay. However, one of the top baseball programs in the district has only won one title since in 2017. Last year, the team was ranked near the top all season but lost to eventual champion New Castle in the semifinals. The Cougars will be in the hunt again this season with the Malagise brothers, Anthony and Jarrod, patrolling the outfield on defense and smashing the ball all over Chippewa Park on offense.

2. Montour (17-7)

Last season was another strong one, as Montour beat Blackhawk to win the Section 2-4A crown and was the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class 4A postseason. The Spartans reached the championship game, but the offense was shut down in a 5-0 whitewash by New Castle. The heart of the lineup with be the battery on most days, with the return of senior pitcher Dylan Mathiesen and senior catcher Matt Luchovick.

3. New Castle (18-9)

New Castle is at or near the top of the WPIAL lists when it comes to winning football and boys basketball gold. However, the Red Hurricanes never won baseball gold until last spring. Thanks to the pitching of Rocco Bernadina, the ‘Canes swept through the 4A playoffs as the No. 7 seed, capping off a golden run with a 5-0 win over section foe Montour in the title game. Bernadina is gone, but the cupboard is not bare with first-team all-stars Anthony Miller and Dom Fornataro back, along with catcher Nick Rodgers, who threw out 17 would-be base-stealers last season.

4. North Catholic (14-8)

North Catholic edged Highlands by one game to win the Section 1-4A title last spring. However, success in the regular season did not translate to a deep run in the postseason. No. 4 seed North Catholic lost to No. 5 seed Laurel Highlands, 6-1, in the district quarterfinals. Two players who were first team all-section in their first scholastic seasons return for the Trojans in junior outfielder Sean Dewey and sophomore pitcher Justin Stupka.

5. Highlands (13-9)

Highlands found itself in a unique situation in 2021. The Golden Rams swept their two-game section series with eventual section champion North Catholic, but those were the only loses the Trojans had. Highlands lost single section games to Indiana, Burrell and Freeport that cost them a section crown. Both the Trojans and Golden Rams will be in the mix for Section 1 supremacy in 2022. Highlands welcomes back junior infielder Jimmy Kunst and senior pitcher Tanner Nulph.

Players to watch

• Eli Sutton, Sr., C, Knoch

• Jimmy Kunst, Jr., INF, Highlands

• Tanner Nulph, Sr., P, Highlands

• Gavin Homer, Jr., INF, Indiana

• Phil Walsh, Sr., INF, Burrell

• Sean Dewey, Jr., OF, North Catholic

• Justin Stupka, Soph., P, North Catholic

• Matt Luchovick, Sr., C, Montour

• Dylan Mathiesen, Sr., P, Montour

• Anthony Malagise, Jr., OF, Blackhawk

• Ryan Jones, Sr., INF, Blackhawk

• Jarrod Malagise, Jr., OF, Blackhawk

• Ethan Faris, Sr., INF, Quaker Valley

• Anthony Miller, Jr., INF, New Castle

• Dom Fornataro, Jr., OF, New Castle

• Luke Alvarez, Sr., C, Elizabeth Forward

• Jake Walker, Sr., INF, West Mifflin

• Zane Griffaton, Soph., OF, West Mifflin

• Andrew Sokol, Sr., INF, Belle Vernon

• Hayden Teska, Sr., INF, Greensburg Salem

• Dylan Sarsfield, Sr., OF, Greensburg Salem

• Kaydin Early, Sr., OF, Laurel Highlands

• Joe Chambers, Sr., P, Laurel Highlands

Class 4A notes

• The odds are not in the favor of teams from Section 1 or Section 3 when it comes to winning championships in 4A. Since expansion to six classifications in 2017, all four WPIAL champions came from Section 2-4A: Blackhawk in 2017, South Fayette in ’18, Beaver in ’19 and New Castle in ’21. The 2020 season was canceled due to the covid-19 outbreak.

• Speaking of Section 2 dominance, New Castle and Montour played in the 2021 finals and were joined by Blackhawk in the final four. In total from last year’s playoffs, the four teams from Section 2 were a combined 8-3 with all three losses coming against teams from Section 2. Both Sections 1 and 3 were 2-4 each.

• Going into the 2022 season, New Castle will bring a nine-game winning streak into the season, while Elizabeth Forward will have the longest losing streak at only three in a row.

• Keep an eye on Greensburg Salem this spring. The Golden Lions finished 4-10 last season but return several key players in Hayden Teska, Dylan Sarsfield, infielder Caiden Cioffi and pitchers Jake Smith and Owen Tutich.

• Some WPIAL championship anniversaries will be celebrated this season by 4A teams: Blackhawk won the WPIAL title five years ago in 2017 and 10 years ago in 2012. Fifteen years ago, West Allegheny in 3A and North Catholic in 2A won 2007 district titles, and 50 years ago, Montour won the 1972 WPIAL championship.

2022 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

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