2023 WPIAL Class 3A baseball preseason breakdown

Thursday, March 16, 2023 | 8:01 AM

It’s a realignment year in WPIAL baseball and once again, the higher classifications have taken a hit.

While Class 6A is down one team from the last two-year cycle, Class 5A is down one whole section after shrinking from 25 teams to 19 teams for the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

Class 4A and 3A are the bloated classes now with four sections for each.

The smallest two classes have three sections each.

Here is a rundown of the 2023 preseason top 5 teams, some of the players to watch and other diamond notes in WPIAL Class 3A baseball.

Preseason Top 5

1. Mohawk (16-6 last season)

It was a silver lining for the boys from Bessemer last spring as Mohawk came close to a first WPIAL baseball championship. The Warriors knocked off top seed Hopewell in the semifinals last season but lost to South Park in the 3A finals. One of the top underclassmen in the classification returns in junior infielder Jay Wrona. He is joined by junior catcher A.J. Verdi and senior pitcher Jacob Werner.

2. Neshannock (20-8)

After finishing tied for third place in Section 2-2A last season, Neshannock was the No. 7 seed. It then went on one of its patented playoff runs with victories over Bentworth and No. 2 Seton LaSalle before beating Burgettstown in a marathon semifinal before falling to Serra Catholic in the 2A finals. The Lancers machine should keep rolling despite playing in a brutally tough Section 1 with the return of senior Andrew Frye and Grant Melder.

3. Riverside (17-7)

Like Neshannock, traditional power Riverside will make the move up from Class 2A to 3A these next two years and is expected to contend after tying for the Section 2-2A title with Shenango last season and reaching the WPIAL semifinals before losing 6-5 to eventual champion Serra Catholic in a semifinal dandy. The Panthers’ top returning players are senior infielder Evan Burry and junior catcher Darren McDade.

4. Avonworth (15-9)

Avonworth had a strong 2022 season except for the fact it couldn’t get past South Park. The Antelopes finished second to the Eagles in Section 2-3A, losing both regular season games to SP. Then Avonworth fell to South Park in the district semifinals, 3-2. The Antelopes return nine starters, though, and will be back in the hunt for district gold. The senior battery of pitcher Mason Howat and catcher Jack Osborn lead the way for the ‘Lopes.

5. South Park (18-6)

Nine years after winning its first WPIAL championship in 2013, South Park hoisted gold again last spring. The Eagles won Section 2-3A, then defeated Waynesburg, New Brighton, Avonworth and Mohawk to win it all again. While South Park did lose some key players, including Kentucky commit Drew Lafferty, younger brother Austin, a senior outfielder who played a key role in the title run, is back for the Eagles. Junior pitcher and infielder Zach Ludwig also returns.

Players to watch

Jaren Brickner, sr., INF-OF, Beaver Falls

Tyler Cunningham, sr., P-INF, Beaver Falls

Nick Magnifico, sr., P-OF, Ellwood City

Joe Roth, jr., INF, Ellwood City

Will Nardone, soph., P, Ellwood City

Jay Wrona, jr., INF, Mohawk

A.J. Verdi, jr., C, Mohawk

Jacob Werner, sr., P-INF, Mohawk

Andrew Frye, sr., INF, Neshannock

Grant Melder, sr., OF, Neshannock

Hunter Doherty, sr., INF, Quaker Valley

Darren McDade, jr., C, Riverside

Evan Burry, sr., INF, Riverside

Braden Ziegler, sr., C, Shenango

Grayson Hooks, jr., OF, Shenango

Mason Horwat, sr., P, Avonworth

Jack Osborn, sr., C, Avonworth

Tyler Serakowski, sr., OF, Keystone Oaks

Jake LaPorte, jr., P-UTIL, Keystone Oaks

Roman Keaney, soph., C, Keystone Oaks

Jaxson Champ, jr., P-INF, South Allegheny

Sawyer Pribanic, sr., OF, South Allegheny

Austin Lafferty, sr., OF, South Park

Zach Ludwig, jr., P-INF, South Park

Michael Twigg, sr., OF, Steel Valley

Chase Burks, soph., P-C-INF, Sto-Rox

Ryan Cochran, jr., OF, Deer Lakes

Roman Fridley, jr., P-INF, Derry

Michael Cahill, jr., P, East Allegheny

Traynor Janosko, jr., C-INF, East Allegheny

Mathew Corfield, jr., P-INF, Freeport

Caden Green, jr., OF, Shady Side Academy

Bryce Trischler, sr., P, Shady Side Academy

Tyler Danko, jr., OF, Valley

Wesley Schrock, jr., P-INF-OF, Valley

Jacob Staraniec, jr., P-C-INF-OF, Valley

Derrick Tarpley, sr., OF, Brownsville

Ethan Wilson, sr., P-OF, Greensburg Salem

Owen Tutich, sr., P-OF, Greensburg Salem

Jake Ross, sr., P-INF, McGuffey

Ryan Keith, jr., P-OF, McGuffey

Logan Carlisle, soph., OF, McGuffey

Connor Drzal, jr., P-INF, Mt. Pleasant

Luke Nicotera, jr., P-INF, Mt. Pleasant

Ty Keffer, jr., P-INF, Southmoreland

Kadin Keefer, jr., P-INF, Southmoreland

Ty Campbell, jr., P-OF, Southmoreland

Lincoln Pack, sr., INF, Waynesburg Central

Alex VanSickle, soph., INF, Waynesburg Central

James Showman, sr., OF, Yough

3A Diamond notes

• Back in the mid-2000s, repeating as champion in Class 3A was the thing to do. Not anymore. South Park will try to win back-to-back 3A crowns for the first time since West Allegheny in 2007-2008. Before that repeat performance, Pine-Richland won three straight district crowns from 2004-2006.

• Class 3A expanded from 23 to 27 teams and has the most teams of any of the six classifications for the 2023 and 2024 seasons. Moving down from 4A are Burrell, Freeport, Quaker Valley and Greensburg Salem. Moving up from 2A are Neshannock, Riverside, Shenango, Sto-Rox and Shady Side Academy. Moving up to 4A is Hopewell and moving down to 2A are New Brighton, Freedom, Ligonier Valley and Charleroi.

• One of the great storylines in 3A coming into the season is in Section 2 where the top two teams are expected to be defending champion South Park and Avonworth. Jeff Bywalski is the new head coach for the Antelopes. He used to be an assistant coach at his alma mater South Park and his son Tyler played for the 2017 Eagles that reached the district and state finals and Ryan was on the 2022 district championship South Park team. His nephew Jake is still the pitching coach at South Park.

• In 1985, Sto-Rox won the WPIAL Class 2A baseball championship. Thirty-eight years later, the Vikings would just love to win a game. Sto-Rox hasn’t won a varsity baseball game since the 2017 season, losing 44 games in a row. Steel Valley has dropped 10 straight and Beaver Falls has lost nine in a row. All three enter the new season with hope those streaks are ended soon. On the flip side, the longest winning streak heading into the new season are Burrell, Freeport and Greensburg Salem, all with a one-game winning streak.

• Some WPIAL Class 3A championship anniversaries being celebrated this season: Brownsville won the WPIAL title five years ago in 2018, South Park was the 3A champion 10 years ago in 2013, North Allegheny was the 3A winner 20 years ago in 2003, Plum won it all in 3A 25 years ago in 1998 and Connellsville captured 3A gold 50 years ago in 1973.

2023 alignment

Section 1: Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Mohawk, Neshannock, Quaker Valley, Riverside, Shenango

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

Section 3: Burrell, Deer Lakes, Derry, East Allegheny, Freeport, Shady Side Academy, Valley

Section 4: Brownsville, Greensburg Salem, McGuffey, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland, Waynesburg, Yough

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