2024 WPIAL Class 5A baseball preseason breakdown

Monday, March 11, 2024 | 11:00 AM

Shaler turned back the clock to 1980, the last time a Titans’ team realized the goal of winning district and state gold.

Behind the arm and bat of Miguel Hugas, Shaler first won the Section 2-5A title, then defeated Fox Chapel and Plum to reach the WPIAL finals, where it rolled past Bethel Park, 11-1.

Shaler then outscored Muhlenberg, Penn-Trafford and Bonner-Prendergast in the PIAA first round, quarterfinals and semifinals, 20-5, to reach the state title game.

There, in a comeback for the ages, Shaler outlasted Strath Haven, 9-8, to win the school’s second state championship and first in 43 years.

Hugas led the way and was named the Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Year. On the mound, Hugas went 11-0 with a 0.71 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 78 innings. As a hitter, he batted .444 with five home runs, 11 doubles and 34 RBIs.

Who will enjoy the dream season this spring?

Here is a rundown of the 2024 preseason top 5 teams, some of the players to watch and other diamond notes in WPIAL Class 5A baseball.

Preseason Top 5

1. Shaler (23-4 last season)

Despite losing several key players, including Derek Leas and Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Year Miguel Hugas, the Titans are ready to defend their district and state crowns with three Division I recruits returning. Senior outfielder Brady Alexander is an Ohio recruit, senior infielder Alex Venizia is a St. Joe’s commit and junior pitcher Colby Weber is headed to East Carolina. Also, senior infielder Brady McGuire is headed to play baseball at Seton Hill.

2. West Allegheny (14-7)

As the Indians prepare to win a fifth WPIAL baseball championship, this is the 10th anniversary of their third crown captured in 2014. West A has a trio of Division I players returning to lead the way — senior catcher Wil Gubba, a Marshall commit, senior infielder Brady Miller, who will play his college ball at Oklahoma, and junior infielder Mason Gass, a Ohio recruit. Another player to watch is the son of head coach Bryan Cornell, junior Brock Cornell, who is coming off a big season in football this past fall.

3. Bethel Park (18-6)

Plenty of key players who helped the Black Hawks capture two WPIAL runner-up trophies and two PIAA championship gold medals over the last three years have graduated. However, top programs keep the talent coming. Bethel Park has a pair of Division I recruits this spring. Junior infielder Ryan Petras is a Northwestern recruit, and junior pitcher Ryan Walsh is a Virginia Tech recruit. Joining Walsh on the mound this season will be senior Santino Diulus, a Seton Hill commit, and senior pitcher and outfielder Jack Edner, who is headed to Clarion.

4. North Hills (13-7)

The Indians relied on a lot of young talent to help turn around a program that hadn’t reached the playoffs since winning a district championship in 2018. North Hills lost a wild one to Upper St. Clair in the 5A first round last spring, 9-7. Leading the way for the Indians this season is Delaware recruit Jake Pollaro, a senior pitcher and first baseman. Also back are senior pitcher Ben Barr (Cal, Pa.), senior pitcher Austin Bakowski (Allegheny) and senior catcher Zack Kuhn (Juniata).

5. Fox Chapel (13-9)

It was a slow start for the Foxes in 2023, beginning the campaign with one win in their first five games. The team then won 10 of 11 games before losing three of four to end the regular season. Fox Chapel defeated Mars in the first round before falling to eventual champion Shaler in the quarterfinals. The Foxes return three players who were first- team all-section last year, including senior catcher Mitchell Epstein, senior infielder Troy Susnak and junior outfielder Jeremy Haigh. Senior pitcher and first baseman Christian Wilkinson is an IUP commit.

Players to watch

Mason Schrecengost, Sr., INF, Armstrong

Brayden Wright, Jr., DH, Armstrong

Christian Wilkinson, Sr., P/1B, Fox Chapel

Troy Susnak, Sr., IF, Fox Chapel

Mitchell Epstein, Sr., C, Fox Chapel

Jeremy Haigh, Jr., OF, Fox Chapel

Luke Williams, So., INF, Franklin Regional

Max Bernadowski, Sr., INF, Franklin Regional

Blake Bertucci, Sr., P, Franklin Regional

Taili Thompson, Sr., P/INF, Gateway

Brody Hoffman, Sr., INF, Penn-Trafford

Chuck Fontana, Sr., OF, Penn-Trafford

Erik Streussing, Sr., P/OF, Plum

Colin Watson, Sr., P/INF, Plum

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

Santino Diulus, Sr., P, Bethel Park

Ryan Walsh, Jr., P, Bethel Park

Jack Edner, Sr., P/OF, Bethel Park

Jake Lee, Sr., OF, Connellsville

Matthew Firestone, Jr., INF, Connellsville

Carter Shanafelt, Sr., OF, Peters Township

Kaden Hathaway, Jr., INF, Trinity

Matt Robaugh, Jr., INF, Trinity

Nick Manko, Sr., P, Upper St. Clair

Jackson Fox, Sr., P, Mars

Luke Goodworth, Jr., INF, Mars

Jake Johnson, Sr., INF, Mars

Coleman Fletcher, Sr., P/INF, Moon

Nathan Lesher, Sr., C, Moon

Nathan Barr, Sr., INF, Moon

Jake Pollaro, Sr., P/IB, North Hills

Ben Barr, Sr., P, North Hills

Zach Kuhn, Sr., DH, North Hills

Austin Bakowski, Sr., P, North Hills

Derek Leas, Sr., INF, Shaler

Brady Alexander, Sr., OF, Shaler

Alex Venizia, Sr., INF, Shaler

Colby Weber, Jr., P, Shaler

Brady McGuire, Sr., INF, Shaler

Luke Jarzynka, Jr., C, Shaler

Tyler Skeen, Sr., P/INF, South Fayette

Wil Grubba, Sr., P/C, West Allegheny

Mason Gass, Jr., INF, West Allegheny

Brock Cornell, Jr., OF, West Allegheny

Brady Miller, Sr., P-INF, West Allegheny

Diamond notes

• For the second time in school history, Shaler will begin a baseball season as defending WPIAL and PIAA champions. In 1980, Shaler defeated Coughlin in the state championship game to finish 30-3, with a season-ending 25-game win streak. In 2023, the Titans crushed Bethel Park for district gold and came back to beat Strath Haven in a wild state 5A title game, 9-8. This season marks the 60th anniversary of the program’s first WPIAL baseball championship in 1964.

• The Shaler state championship victory ended the two-year run as PIAA 5A champions for 2023 district runner-up Bethel Park. The Black Hawks’ dream of three-peating as state champions ended when they lost to Bonner-Prendergast out of District 12 in the state quarterfinals, 2-1. That loss ended the outstanding career of Bethel Park senior Evan Holewinski. He ended his scholastic career with a 20-3 record, a 0.68 ERA with 158 strikeouts and 29 walks in 158 innings pitched. Offensively, he batted .432 with 46 RBIs. Riverside is the only other WPIAL school to repeat as state champion, and did it twice, in 2005-06 and again in 2011-12.

• Two teams that missed the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs in 2022 enjoyed turnaround seasons last spring and were back playoff ball in late May. North Hills finished in fifth place with a total of six wins two years ago. Last season, the Indians finished in second place behind Shaler in Section 3-5A, and ended up with a record of 13-7. Armstrong also finished in fifth place in 2022 with a 9-11 record. In 2023, the River Hawks finished in fourth place with a 14-7 overall record.

• WPIAL finalists Bethel Park and Shaler also were outright section winners in Section 2 and 3, respectively. The race for the crown in Section 1 ended in a tie, which was appropriate for how close the race was all season. Penn-Trafford and Plum were co-champs with 9-3 section records, however only three games separated the top-five teams. Fox Chapel was a game back, Armstrong two back and Franklin Regional missed the playoffs despite finishing only three games out of first place.

• Shaler became the first two-time WPIAL champion in the short existence of Class 5A. The Titans also claimed district gold in 2019. The other 5A champions have been Latrobe in 2017, North Hills in 2018, Franklin Regional in 2021 and West Allegheny in 2022. In the PIAA playoffs, WPIAL 5A teams have won four state crowns with Latrobe in 2017, Bethel Park in 2021 and 2022, and Shaler in 2023.

2024 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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