2023 WPIAL Class 6A baseball preseason breakdown

Monday, March 13, 2023 | 9:51 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 6A baseball.

Preseason Top 5

1. Central Catholic (12-10 last season)

A strong end to the 2022 regular season helped Central Catholic finish one game out of first place and end up with a winning record. The Vikings won six of seven games starting in late April, including a quarterfinal playoff win over Norwin, 5-2. The season ended with a loss to eventual champion Mt. Lebanon in the semifinals, 2-1. The Vikings move from Section 1 (north) to Section 2 (south/east) this season and have four position players and three starters returning, including seniors Antonio Cordeiro, Cade Clister, David Farrell, James Hensell and Nick Robertson and juniors Gavin Kelly and Cade O’Leary.

2. Pine-Richland (11-10)

Pine-Richland bounced back last spring from a rare down season in 2021 to finish as co-champions with North Allegheny in Section 1. The Rams were ousted in the 6A quarterfinals by section foe Butler, 5-0. Sophomore Anthony Mangine had a fabulous freshman season, hitting .311 with 14 runs scored and 11 RBIs. Senior Owen Henne batted .306. Senior Jacob McGwire and sophomore Tristan Farrar are expected to lead the Rams pitching staff.

3. Mt. Lebanon (16-8)

It was a golden year for Mt. Lebanon on the gridiron and the diamond in 2021-22 with several players being part of both championship teams. The baseball title was the first in 16 years for the Blue Devils and second for head coach Patt McCloskey, who also was a part of Lebo championship wins as a player and an assistant coach. Senior Tyler Smith, an Auburn recruit, sophomore David Shields and senior Matt Delvaux will lead the way on the mound while senior Tanner Donati will spark the offense.

4. North Allegheny (15-6)

All was looking good through the end of the regular season for North Allegheny to make a run at repeating in 6A after tying Pine-Richland for the Section 1 crown and earning the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL playoffs. However, the Tigers were stunned in the quarterfinals by Upper St. Clair for one of the earliest postseason exits for NA in years. The Tigers are set to reload, though, thanks to several returning players, including infielders Andrew Hart and Spencer Barnett.

5. Butler (15-6)

Butler started the 2022 season with six straight wins and finished the regular season with five consecutive victories, but needed a win in the second game of the final section series against Seneca Valley to secure a district playoff spot. The Golden Tornado blanked Pine-Richland in a 6A quarterfinals before falling to Upper St. Clair in the semifinals, 8-2. Butler will be strong on the mound, led by senior Virginia Tech recruit Madden Clement and senior Fairmont State recruit Mac Schnur. Also back is catcher Connor McTighe.

Players to watch

Madden Clement, sr., P, Butler

Mac Schnur, sr., P/OF, Butler

Andrew Hart, sr., INF, North Allegheny

Spencer Barnett, sr., INF, North Allegheny

Cam Ward, sr., P/INF, North Allegheny

Ian Zahorchak, sr., C/OF, North Allegheny

Anthony Mengine, so., OF, Pine-Richland

Avery Brown, sr., INF/DH, Pine-Richland

Owen Henne, sr., P/INF, Pine-Richland

Jacob McGuire, sr., P/INF-OF, Pine-Richland

A.J. Capizza, sr., INF, Seneca Valley

Brock White, sr., OF, Seneca Valley

T.J. Border, sr., C, Seneca Valley

Bryan McCann, sr., C, Allderdice

Christian Forgacs, sr., P/OF, Baldwin

Carson Chapel, sr., P/OF, Baldwin

Adam Ledbetter, jr., INF, Baldwin

Andrew Kocun, sr., DH, Canon-McMillan

Gavin Kelly, jr., INF/C, Central Catholic

Nicholas Robertson, sr., P/INF, Central Catholic

Adam Hess, jr., INF, Hempfield

Gage Wheaton, sr., OF, Hempfield

Carson Shuglie, jr., C, Hempfield

Tanner Donati, sr., OF, Mt. Lebanon

Tyler Smith, sr., P/INF, Mt. Lebanon

David Shields, so., P/OF, Mt. Lebanon

Diamond notes

• Mt. Lebanon will be trying to accomplish what no other team has done in the five-year history of WPIAL 6A baseball — repeat as champions. The five previous 6A champs were Pine-Richland in 2017 and 2019, Canon-McMillan in 2018, North Allegheny in 2020 and Mt. Lebanon in 2022.

• The championship run for Mt. Lebanon last spring was the program’s fifth WPIAL crown. The Blue Devils also won titles in 1959, 1993, 2002 and 2006. The five titles tie the Blue Devils for fourth place on the all-time district baseball championship list with four other schools. North Allegheny has the most with eight, while Pine-Richland is tied for third most with six.

• 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. That means at least eight of the 11 teams in 6A will qualify for the playoffs, including four of the five teams in Section 1. Also this season in 6A, there will be three-game section series instead of the two games other classes are scheduled for because of the small class size.

• One year after Jerry Malarkey retired after 37 years as Upper St. Clair baseball coach, another long time diamond leader has stepped away from the game. Mike Liebdzinski left after 19 years as head coach at Norwin. He was 233-114 in his tenure, with 17 playoff appearances, eight section titles and one WPIAL championship in 2016. Former Yough coach Craig Spisak takes over at Norwin after six seasons on Cougar Mountain.

• Five years ago, Canon-McMillan won the second ever WPIAL 6A championship game by edging North Allegheny, 2-1. The Big Macs went on to win the only PIAA 6A baseball championship for a team from the WPIAL when they defeated Bensalem, 10-3. It was the first state title for a WPIAL team in baseball’s highest classification since Canon-McMillan won the 4A state championship in 2008.

2023 alignment

Section 1: Allderdice, Butler, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley

Section 2: Baldwin, Canon-McMillan, Central Catholic, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon, Norwin

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