2023 WPIAL Class 5A baseball preseason breakdown

Tuesday, March 14, 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 5A baseball.

Preseason Top 5

1. South Fayette (15-5 last season)

South Fayette earned a share of the section title two years ago and tied for second place last season. The Lions are still looking for a long playoff run though after losing in the first round in 2021 and in the quarterfinals last season. Perhaps this is the year with a dynamic one-two punch on the mound for all those section series games with South Carolina recruit Tyler Pitzer and Duke commit Chase Krewson. The Lions also have the offense led by Michael DiMartini and Christian Brandi.

2. Shaler (15-7)

After splitting their two section games in the regular season, Shaler lost to eventual champion West Allegheny in the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, 6-5. That game ended the Titans career of Bryan Rincon, who was drafted by the Phillies. Shaler returns everybody else though, including their top two pitchers in seniors Miguel Hugas and Derick Leas. Hugas is an Alabama recruit. Ohio commit Brady Alexander hit over .400 with three home runs a year ago.

3. West Allegheny (20-5)

The cupboard is hardly bare for the defending champion Indians. Junior Brady Miller scored the golden run for West A in the title game last season and will be part of a pitching staff that includes junior Will Gubba and senior Cole Egan. Also seeing some time on the mound and in the outfield will be Nick Longo, a starter as a sophomore in 2021 who missed last year due to injury. West Allegheny traditionally has great depth and others who saw playing time in their title run will have expanded roles this spring.

4. Bethel Park (21-4)

Bethel Park has six starters back from its state championship run last spring, with all eyes on star right-handed pitcher Evan Holewinski. The Black Hawks are hardly a one-man team though with the return of seniors John Chalus at catcher, Ray Altmeyer in the outfield, Nathan Vargo at pitcher and infield, and sophomores Ryan Walsh at pitcher and outfield and Ryan Petras in the infield and outfield.

5. Upper St. Clair (13-10)

A move down in classification reunited Upper St. Clair with old section rivals Bethel Park, Trinity and Peters Township. Upper St. Clair had a new coach last year for the first time in over 40 years in Jeff Donati, and he almost pulled off a stunner. Seeded No. 7 in the 6A playoffs, USC stunned North Allegheny in the quarterfinals, beat Butler in the semifinals, but lost in the championship game to rival Mt. Lebanon, 2-1. Now the Panthers look for 5A success with the return of several key players, including senior catcher Ty Lagoni and senior infielder Owen Mandler.

Players to watch

Dustin Coleman, sr., P/INF, Armstrong

Ben DeMotte, jr., P/INF, Fox Chapel

Anthony Alesi, sr., INF, Franklin Regional

Floyd McKenna, sr., P, Gateway

Kenny Boyle, sr., P/INF, Penn Hills

Jason Sabol, jr., OF, Penn-Trafford

Brady Dojonovic, sr., OF, Plum

Evan Holewinski, sr., P, Bethel Park

Ryan Petras, so., INF/OF, Bethel Park

John Chalus, sr., C, Bethel Park

Ray Altmeyer, sr., OF, Bethel Park

Beau Bigam, sr., P/OF, Connellsville

Jack Lutte, sr. C, Peters Township

Chase Krewson, sr., P/OF, South Fayette

Tyler Pitzer, sr., P, South Fayette

Michael DiMartini, sr., INF, South Fayette

Christian Brandi, sr., OF, South Fayette

Matthew Robaugh, so., INF, Trinity

Ty Lagoni, sr., C, Upper St. Clair

Owen Mandler, sr., INF, Upper St. Clair

Jake Johnson, jr., INF, Mars

Thomas McLaren, sr., P, Mars

Jacob Despot, sr., P/INF, Moon

Coleman Fletcher, jr., P/INF, Moon

Anthony Miller, sr., INF, New Castle

Dom Fornataro, sr., OF, New Castle

Dylan Barnes, sr., P/INF, North Hills

Miguel Hugas, sr., P, Shaler

Derick Leas, sr., P/INF, Shaler

Tristan Holland, sr., C, Shaler

Brady Alexander, jr., OF, Shaler

Brady Miller, jr., P/INF, West Allegheny

Will Gubba, jr., P/C, West Allegheny

Cole Egan, sr., P/INF, West Allegheny

Nick Longo, sr., P/OF, West Allegheny

Diamond notes

• The 2022 WPIAL Class 5A baseball championship game was tribe time as the Peters Township Indians squared off against the West Allegheny Indians. The showdown was a classic as Anthony Raineri singled home Brady Miller in the top of the eighth inning for what would be the golden run. The game was delayed twice by lightning. The title was the fifth for West A. and its first since 2014. West Allegheny will try to become the first team to repeat in 5A since expansion in 2017.

• Bethel Park may have come up short in the district playoffs again, but once again found a golden pot at the end of the PIAA baseball playoffs rainbow. Bethel Park lost to West Allegheny in the WPIAL semifinals a year after losing to Franklin Regional in the 5A title game. However the Hawks won the consolation game, then ripped off four straight wins in the state playoffs, including a shutout of Selingrove in the championship game, 5-0. The Black Hawks became the first WPIAL baseball team to win back-to-back PIAA crowns since Riverside in 2011 and 2012.

• The comings and goings of a realignment year has led to a shakeup in Class 5A. The classification shrunk from four sections to three sections for the 2023 and 2024 seasons. Leaving Class 5A and dropping to 4A were Latrobe, Kiski Area, McKeesport, Hampton, Woodland Hills, Chartiers Valley, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Gallatin. Joining 5A is Upper St. Clair down from 6A, and New Castle up from 4A.

• Evan Holewinski returns for Bethel Park after one of the most dominating seasons by any district pitcher. The senior righty finished with a record of 10-0, a 0.60 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 58 innings. He also hit .417 for the PIAA champion Black Hawks. Holewinski is a Kent State commit.

• In its short time in existence, Class 5A has provided plenty of thrills and balance. The champions have been Latrobe in 2017, North Hills in 2018, Shaler in 2019, Franklin Regional in 2021 and West Allegheny in 2022. Two of those title games went into extra innings and a third was decided on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh inning. In the PIAA playoffs, WPIAL 5A teams have won three state crowns — Latrobe in 2017 and Bethel Park in 2021 and 2022. That is the most by any District 7 class in the last 10 years.

2023 alignment

Section 1: Armstrong, Fox Chapel, Franklin Regional, Gateway, Penn Hills, Penn-Trafford, Plum

Section 2: Bethel Park, Connellsville, Peters Township, South Fayette, Trinity, Upper St. Clair

Section 3: Mars, Moon, New Castle, North Hills, Shaler, West Allegheny

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