2022 WPIAL Class 5A baseball preseason breakdown

Sunday, March 20, 2022 | 10:21 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 5 teams, players to watch and other notes in WPIAL Class 5A baseball.

Preseason Top 5

1. Bethel Park (22-4 last season)

What could have been nightmare finish to an outstanding season was just a hiccup in the road for Bethel Park in 2021. After losing a heartbreaker to Franklin Regional in the WPIAL 5A finals, the Black Hawks turned around and got hot in the state postseason. BP edged Red Land to win the program’s first PIAA crown in 33 years. Now the Hawks are poised to strike again with seven returning starters and a top pitcher in junior Evan Holewinski.

2. Franklin Regional (19-2)

A near-perfect regular season became a golden campaign for Franklin Regional. The Panthers were 14-0 before losing a nonsection game to Norwin late in the schedule. Franklin Regional knocked off Thomas Jefferson, Mars and Peters Township to reach the 5A title game. In an instant classic, Andrew Muraco doubled home Luke Treloar with the golden run in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 2-1 win over Bethel Park. While those two players graduated, Caden Smith, Anthony Alesi, Jordan Suvak, Thomas Nicely and Jack Bridges are all back for the defending champs.

3. South Fayette (15-4)

South Fayette had an outstanding regular season in 2021, winning 15 of 18 games and finishing in a three-way tie for the Section 3-5A championship with West Allegheny and Shaler. Then came the postseason as No. 4 seed South Fayette was stunned by Peters Township, 6-4, in a result that ended the Lions season a lot earlier than many thought. The Lions return several key pieces to the lineup, including a pair of first team all-section players in junior outfielder Chase Krewson and junior pitcher Tyler Pitzer.

4. Shaler (14-6)

It might sound like a broken record, but much like West Allegheny and South Fayette, Shaler enjoyed a great regular season. Unfortunately for the Titans, after winning a share of the section title, their playoff run fell short as the 2019 champs lost to Bethel Park in the quarterfinals. Much like section rivals the Indians and Lions, the Titans lost some players, but have enough talent coming back to be in the title picture again. Leading the way is senior shortstop Bryan Rincon and junior pitcher Miguel Hugas.

5. West Allegheny (18-6)

Going into last season, West Allegheny appeared ready to make another championship run for the first time since 2014. However, the Indians were hit hard by injuries to key players. They still managed to earn a share of the Section 3 crown with South Fayette and Shaler, and reached the semifinals of the WPIAL playoffs before falling to Bethel Park, 1-0, and ending their season with a 3-2 loss to Central Mountain in the state quarterfinals. This year’s team will once again be led by Auburn recruit Gavin Miller (SS/P) and senior second baseman Joseph Pustover, however injuries already have three expected starters on the shelf.

Players to watch

Logan Short, Sr., C, Latrobe

Vinny Amatucci, Sr., INF, Latrobe

Duston Strom, Sr., INF, McKeesport

Caden Smith, Sr., OF, Franklin Regional

Anthony Alesi, Jr., INF, Franklin Regional

Matt Lichota, Sr., OF, Penn-Trafford

Floyd McKenna, Jr., P, Gateway

Jacob Patterson, Sr., INF, Fox Chapel

Cameron Marshalwitz, Sr., OF, Hampton

Anthony Bucci, Jr., INF, Hampton

Bryan Rincon, Sr., INF, Shaler

Miguel Hugas, Jr., P, Shaler

Robert Dickerson, Sr., OF, North Hills

Gavin Miller, Sr., INF/P, West Allegheny

Devan Zirwas, Sr., INF, West Allegheny

Chase Krewson, Jr., OF, South Fayette

Tyler Pitzer, Jr., P, South Fayette

David Kessler, Sr., SS, Bethel Park

Cody Geddes, Sr., 3B, Bethel Park

Evan Holewinski, Jr., P, Bethel Park

Nick Pegg, Sr., OF, Albert Gallatin

James Domer, Sr., OF, Connellsville

Wes Parker, Sr., INF, Peters Township

Diamond notes

• Franklin Regional hopes the third time is a charm when it comes to repeating as WPIAL baseball champions. The Panthers will try to do what they could not do when they won district baseball gold in 1997 and 2001. In 1998, the Panthers were eliminated by Shaler in the AAA quarterfinals, while in 2002 Franklin Regional was ousted in the opening round by Moon.

• While Franklin Regional and Bethel Park were perfect in winning Section 1 and Section 4 titles, West Allegheny, Shaler and South Fayette put on a great show in finishing tied for first place in Section 3. So what about Section 2? Plum claimed the title by beating out Mars and Fox Chapel by one game in another great race to the end.

• Going into the 2022 season, Bethel Park will bring a four-game winning streak into the new campaign while Penn Hills has won three in a row. Woodland Hills will be trying to end a 14-game losing streak. The Wolverines won their opener last year, and then lost every game the rest of the way.

• One of the great human interest stories in 2022 involves former Bethel Park pitcher Corey Fischer. Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as Ewing sarcoma, he was invited by the Pittsburgh Steelers to attend this year’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles. Now after undergoing chemotherapy, Fischer has allowed only two earned runs in his first two starts at Waynesburg University over 13 innings.

• Some WPIAL championship anniversaries of note this season by 5A teams: Latrobe won the first 5A crown five years ago by beating Mars, 6-2. Fifteen years ago, Peters Township won the 4A title while West Allegheny took home the 2007 3A championship. Twenty-five years ago, Franklin Regional won the 1997 3A title. Forty years ago, Connellsville won the 1982 3A title.

2022 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

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