2022 WPIAL Class 6A baseball preseason breakdown

Saturday, March 19, 2022 | 10:21 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 5 teams, some of the players to watch and other diamond notes in WPIAL Class 6A baseball.

Preseason Top 5

1. North Allegheny (23-4 last season)

After settling for WPIAL silver in 2018 and ‘17, North Allegheny was back on top last year, winning baseball gold for the first time since 2013. The Tigers might be set to repeat in 6A with several returning starters to a team that lost by one run in the state championship game. Leading the way is senior shortstop Cole Young, who is projected to be a first-round selection in the MLB Draft. The Duke recruit hit .437 with four doubles, four triples, six home runs, 33 runs scored and 23 RBIs as a junior. Also back are seniors Aaron Posey, Aaron Galaska and Erik Sundgren and junior Spencer Barnett.

2. Hempfield (16-9)

It was a bitter-sweet ending to the 2021 season for Hempfield. The Spartans knocked off rival Norwin in the WPIAL semifinals, but they could not muster up any offense in the finals and lost to North Allegheny, 4-0. The Spartans then beat McDowell before losing to Spring-Ford in the state quarterfinals. Tim Buzzard has several standout players returning, including outfielders Brandon Coughlin and Jayson Jacob. Senior Jake Kramer will head the Hempfield pitching staff.

3. Norwin (14-4)

Norwin was the Trib HSSN preseason No. 1 team last spring. The Knights backed that lofty ranking up by winning 11 of their first 12 games. However, the Knights finished 3-3 in their final six, including two losses to rival Hempfield. Expectations are high again for Norwin with the return of some key players, including senior infielders Jake Kendro and Ty Stecko, along with outfielders Jack Whalen and Elijah Dunn as they try to win their first title since 2016.

4. Butler (14-7)

Against the rest of the WPIAL last season, Butler was 14-4 and one of the top teams in 6A. The kryptonite was North Allegheny. The Golden Tornado lost twice to the Tigers in the regular season and finished second behind NA in Section 1, then the Golden Tornado were swept away by the Tigers in the district semifinals. Butler will be in the hunt for that elusive first WPIAL crown this spring with the return of infielder Cooper Baxter, outfielder Colin Patterson and the battery of juniors Madden Clement on the mound and Connor McTighe behind the plate.

5. Mt. Lebanon (11-8)

Mt. Lebanon tasted success last year with a young, inexperienced team. The Blue Devils finished in third place in Section 2-6A before falling to Butler in the quarterfinals. Lebo has one of the top pitchers in the district returning in left-handed junior Tyler Smith. The Auburn recruit has hit 87-89 mph on his fastball. Joining him in the Blue Devils rotation is senior Derrick Shields. After a great football season, Eli Heidenreich is back on the diamond, along with fellow senior Paul Connelly and junior Tanner Donati.

Players to watch

Cole Young, Sr., SS North Allegheny

Aaron Posey, Sr., C, North Allegheny

Spencer Barnett, Jr., INF, North Allegheny

Cooper Baxter, Sr., IF, Butler

Colin Patterson, Sr., OF, Butler

Madden Clement, Jr., P, Butler

Jake Kendro, Sr., IF, Norwin

Jack Whalen, Sr., OF, Norwin

Ty Stecko, Sr., INF, Norwin

Tyler Smith, Jr., INF-P, Mt. Lebanon

Eli Heidenreich, Sr., INF, Mt. Lebanon

Tanner Donati, Jr., OF, Mt. Lebanon

Derrick Shields, Sr., P, Mt. Lebanon

Paul Connolly, Sr., C, Mt. Lebanon

Brandon Coughlin, Sr., OF, Hempfield

Ryan Firmstone, Sr., INF, Hempfield

Jayson Jacob, Sr., OF, Hempfield

Jake Kramer, Sr., P, Hempfield

Mateo Cepulio, Sr., OF, Upper St. Clair

Andrew Kocun, Jr., DH, Canon-McMillan

6A Diamond notes

• North Allegheny will be trying to accomplish what no other team has done in the short history of WPIAL 6A baseball…repeat. The four previous 6A champs were Pine-Richland in 2017 and 2019, Canon-McMillan in 2018 and NA in 2022.

• Once again, the top four teams in each section will qualify for the WPIAL playoffs in mid-May. If multiple teams are tied for fourth place and head-to-head does not break the tie, all the tied teams will qualify. Last year, Upper St. Clair and Canon-McMillan finished tied for fourth in Section 2 and had a first-round play-in game, won by Upper St. Clair, 4-3.

• Speaking of Upper St. Clair, the Panthers have a new head coach for the first time in nearly four decades. Jerry Malarkey retired after the 2021 season following 37 years as USC head baseball coach. Malarkey won 433 games and led USC to its only WPIAL title 30 years ago in 1992. Former Mt. Lebanon assistant Jeff Donati is the new coach of the Panthers.

• While the return to baseball was much celebrated around the district and the state, one traditional power struggled in its return to the diamond. In 2019, Pine-Richland finished 19-5, won a WPIAL championship for the second time in three years and reached the state quarterfinals. The Rams struggled with key injuries in 2021, finishing in fifth place in Section 1 with a final overall record of 7-10.

• Once a City League baseball power, 6A baseball has been a struggle for Allderdice. The Dragons were winless in section play last spring, the second time they didn’t win a section game since 2016. In their four years in Section 1-6A, Allderdice has a combined section record of 2-42.

• Twenty years ago, the WPIAL only had three classifications. The 2002 district title game in the highest class (3A) had a historic touch to it. Mt. Lebanon left hander Chris Koutsavlis became the answer to a trivia question, who threw the first no-hitter in PNC park history? Koutsavlis struck out seven and walked four, but allowed no hits in a 2-0 Blue Devils victory over Blackhawk. Another unique footnote, it was the only year that all of the WPIAL title games were played at PNC Park.

2022 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

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