2024 Trib HSSN Head of the Class: Baseball Player and Coach of the Year for each classification

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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | 9:50 PM


This spring, those sitting at head of the baseball class had a chance to see two repeat district champions, an unexpected title run in a marathon WPIAL 3A championship game and another no-hitter in the Class 6A finals.

Bishop Canevin won a second straight WPIAL golden crown, while for rival Eden Christian Academy, it was a silver lining in both the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs.

Seton LaSalle was also a repeat winner in the district, earning the Class 2A championship while playing without the top hitter in the WPIAL.

Avonworth stunned all by winning its first district title in more than 30 years with a 14-inning classic 3A finals win over previously undefeated and defending champion Riverside.

North Catholic was the 4A winner in District 7, the Trojans’ first title since 2018, while Penn-Trafford was a first time WPIAL baseball champion in Class 5A.

History was made when for the second straight year; a David threw a no-hitter in the WPIAL Class 6A title game. In 2023, Mt. Lebanon’s David Shields allowed no hits in a shutout win over North Allegheny. Then in May, David Posey threw a no-hitter against Mt. Lebanon, as the tables turned in the NA championship victory.

Trib HSSN salutes all the players and coaches for their great work on the baseball diamond in this spring. However, these players and coaches receive a special gold star on the forehead, a tip of the cap and a seat up front as they are at the head of the class in 2024.

Class 6A

Player of the Year: David Shields, Mt. Lebanon

This is the second straight year Shields is the HSSN Class 6A Player of the Year. A lot happened to Shields before he even threw his first pitch this spring. He tested ahead to skip his junior year, he bypassed the high school football season, then he had to overcome a bout of mononucleosis right before the season started that caused him to lose 20 pounds. Once he got going, though, the senior showed everybody, including the dozens of MLB scouts following him, why he is expected to go high in the upcoming MLB draft. Shields finished with a 5-1 record and only allowed two earned runs in 35 innings pitched, walking four and striking out 63. He was pretty good with the stick too, batting .383 with 16 runs scored and 18 RBIs. Shields will have a decision to make between turning pro or playing his college baseball at Miami.

Coach of the Year: Andrew Heck, North Allegheny

While it may seem like the North Allegheny baseball team is in the WPIAL Class 6A championship game every spring, it has only happened six times in eight years. Heck has been a part of those journeys to the finals after taking over the tradition rich program in 2017. The Section 1-6A title came down to the final day of section play as North Allegheny lost a heartbreaker to Pine-Richland to finish in second place. The No. 3-seeded Tigers avenged that lost in the district semifinals, then behind David Posey’s no-hitter, blanked two-time champion Mt. Lebanon in the 6A finals, 1-0. North Allegheny finished 17-7 in capturing a district-leading ninth baseball crown and second for Heck in four years.

Class 5A

Player of the Year: Ryan Petras, Bethel Park

In another close but no cigar season for the Bethel Park baseball team in the WPIAL playoffs, this junior shortstop overcame a wrist injury to have another big season for the Black Hawks. Ryan Petras batted .452 (33 for 73) with one home run, 27 runs scored and 17 RBIs. He had a .565 on-base percentage, .575 slugging percentage and 1.141 OPS. He also was one of the top shortstops in 5A with a .973 fielding percentage playing the Black Hawks home games on the natural surface of Purkey Field. In the WPIAL Class 5A championship game, Petras was 1 for 2 with two walks and a run scored in the Hawks’ 4-3 loss to Penn-Trafford. Petras was a Northwestern baseball commit, but is now looking at switching schools and sports as he continues to receive offers to play college football.

Coach of the Year: Lou Cortazzo, Penn-Trafford

In only his second year as head coach at Penn-Trafford, Lou Cortazzo did what no other coach in program history could do — he helped lead the Warriors to a WPIAL baseball championship. Things did not look good when Penn-Trafford squandered a chance to win the Section 1-5A title outright but lost the final section series to Franklin Regional. Falling into a four-way tie for first place, the No. 7 Warriors ripped off district wins against Moon, Fox Chapel and Franklin Regional before meeting Bethel Park in the 5A finals. P-T beat BP, 4-3, for the Warriors’ first baseball title. Penn-Trafford lost in the PIAA quarterfinals to finish its golden season at 21-4.

Class 4A

Players of the year: Tommy Schafale and Blake Primrose, North Catholic

The North Catholic senior batterymates share the honor of HSSN 4A Players of the Year. Primrose was dominant at the plate and behind the dish, leading the WPIAL champs in most offensive categories. He batted .446 (29 for 65) with 18 extra-base hits, including eight home runs and 28 RBIs. Tommy Schafale was pretty good with the stick as well, hitting .333 with three homers and 10 RBIs. However, the lefthander made a name for himself on the hill, going 9-0 with a 1.44 ERA. Schafale walked 11 and struck out 65 opposing batters in 63 1/3 innings of work. Primrose will be playing his college baseball at St. Joseph’s while Schafale hopes to play club baseball at Penn State.

Coach of the year: Dan Petroff, Indiana

For the second straight year, the head coach of Indiana is HSSN’s Class 4A Coach of the Year. A year ago, it was Bill Thompson, who guided the Little Indians to surprise runs to the district semifinals and the state quarterfinals. This spring, it was Dan Petroff, who was an assistant before taking over for Thompson this past offseason. All the former minor leaguer in the Angels organization did was help Indiana reach the finals in both the WPIAL and PIAA postseasons. The Little Indians finished 16-11 in a season of seconds. Indiana finished behind North Catholic in Section 1-4A, and then lost to the Trojans in the WPIAL finals by two runs. They eventually came home with state silver after a tough one-run loss to Holy Ghost Prep in the 4A state championship game.

Class 3A

Player of the year: Zach Hare, Riverside

The junior pitcher and third baseman had a dominant season for a dominant Riverside team that won 16 of its first 17 games before losing in the WPIAL finals to Avonworth and to Punxsutawney in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. Zach Hare batted .542 (26 for 48) with two home runs and 19 RBIs. Hare’s on-base percentage was .633, his slugging percentage was .813 and his OPS was 1.446. On the mound, he enjoyed great success as well with a 9-1 record and an ERA of 0.95. He struck out 86 opposing batters in 44 innings pitched. In the 14-inning WPIAL Class 3A title game loss to Avonworth, he pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on five hits with two walks and 10 strikeouts. Hare is a Slippery Rock commit.

Coach of the year: Jeff Bywalski, Avonworth

Sitting at 8-7 overall in last April, Avonworth found its key to success in winning four of its last five regular season games. The Antelopes shined on the mound with three shutouts in the final two weeks before the playoffs. The ‘Lopes were the No. 7 seed in the 3A district playoffs as second-year head coach Jeff Bywalski guided Avonworth to four straight district playoff wins, including a record-setting 14-inning marathon win in the 3A finals over 2023 champion Riverside. The Antelopes weren’t done, winning three more PIAA playoff games before falling to Neumann-Goretti in the state title game. In winning its first WPIAL baseball championship in 32 years, Avonworth finished the season 19-9.

Class 2A

Player of the year: Gio LoNero, Seton LaSalle

Much like David Shields of Mt. Lebanon, this is the second year in a row DiMaggio was the way to go and is the HSSN Player of the Year in 2A. “Gio” LoNero capped off his scholastic career by once again putting up monster numbers this season before missing out on the Rebels’ final two games due to an ejection in the district semifinals. LoNero led the WPIAL in hitting with a mind-boggling .644 batting average (29 for 45) with 14 extra-base hits, including four home runs, with 34 runs scored and 21 RBIs. He was walked 22 times, many intentionally. In six starts on the mound, he was 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA, striking out 27 and walking six in 22 innings pitched. LoNero is committed to play college baseball at North Alabama.

Coach of the year: Brad Bestic, Seton LaSalle

So far, so good for Brad Bestic at Seton LaSalle. He is now 2 for 2 with back-to-back WPIAL championship runs in his two years at the helm of the green and gold. Seton LaSalle entered the season with high expectations with the return of several keys players from its 2023 title run. However, the Rebels hit a snag late in the regular season when they were swept by OLSH in the Section 2-2A championship series to finish in second place. They rebounded by beating the Chargers in the district semifinals, but had to play the championship game without the district’s leading hitter. No problem, apparently, as Seton LaSalle blanked Serra Catholic, 5-0, to win gold and finish the season following a first-round state playoff loss at 17-4.

Class A

Player of the year: Caleb Emswiler, Eden Christian Academy

The senior pitcher, first baseman and third baseman did most of his damage with his bat. Caleb Emswiler batted .425 (31 for 73) this season with six home runs and 40 RBIs for Eden Christian Academy. He scored 24 runs and had an on-base percentage of .512, a slugging percentage of .822 and 1.334 OPS in helping the Warriors win their section and finish as WPIAL runner-up to Bishop Canevin and PIAA runner-up to undefeated Faith Christian. On the mound, Emswiler was 2-1 with a 3.40 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings pitched. His younger brother, Noah, was a sophomore pitcher and outfielder this past season for the Warriors. Caleb will play his college baseball at Division I Gardner-Webb.

Coach of the year: Jason Fogg, Avella

When the current group of Avella seniors were freshman in the spring of 2021, the Eagles finished 2-12. Two years later, they ended up going 10-7 and making the WPIAL Class A playoffs in 2023. While the 2024 season did not yield any hardware for Avella, it was a season to remember. In his 18th season at the small school in Washington County, Jason Fogg led the Eagles to a three-way tie for second place in Section 1-A and the No. 6 seed in the Class A playoffs. Avella defeated Springdale in the first round to earn the program’s first playoff win in 15 years. The Eagles liked it so much, they stunned No. 3 Fort Cherry in the quarterfinals, 6-3. Avella lost in the semifinals to Eden Christian Academy, but earned the school first PIAA baseball playoff berth with a consolation win over Carmichaels. The Eagles upset District 10 champion West Middlesex for what is believed to be the school’s first PIAA win in any sport. The dream season ended with another loss to Eden Christian in the PIAA quarterfinals as the team finished 13-7.

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