2024 WPIAL Class 6A baseball preseason breakdown

Sunday, March 10, 2024 | 11:01 AM

One of the top high school sports stories in 2023 took place in the WPIAL Class 6A baseball championship game when defending champion Mt. Lebanon took on North Allegheny.

For the second time over the last half-century in the WPIAL, a no-hitter was thrown in the highest classification’s title game.

Concluding his sophomore season, Mt. Lebanon left-hander David Shields shut down the North Allegheny offense to make history. The Miami recruit walked four and struck out seven as the Blue Devils blanked the Tigers, 4-0.

The no-hitter happened 21-years after Chris Koutsavalis threw a no-no in the WPIAL 3A title game at PNC Park in a victory over Blackhawk. Class 3A was the highest classification in the WPIAL in 2002.

Because of his strong academics, Shields skipped his junior year and is now a senior.

Will there be magic in this year’s WPIAL 6A regular season, postseason or title game?

Here is a rundown of the 2024 preseason top 5 teams, some of the players to watch and other diamond notes in WPIAL Class 6A baseball.

Preseason Top 5

1. North Allegheny (17-8 last season)

It was another strong season for the Tigers as they tied for the Section 1-6A crown and reached the WPIAL championship game only to be no-hit by David Shields of Mt. Lebanon. North Allegheny lost some key players, including Spencer Barnett and Andrew Hart, but as usual, the cupboard seems always full with talent. NA welcomes back four Division I commits in senior pitcher and outfielder J.D. Costanzo (West Virginia), senior pitcher and outfielder Charles Mau (Penn State), senior pitcher and first baseman David Posey (Navy) and junior pitcher Nico Varlotta (West Virginia). North Allegheny hopes to win a district-leading ninth WPIAL baseball title and first since 2021 this spring.

2. Seneca Valley (16-5)

One of three teams to tie for the Section 1-6A championship last season, the Raiders swept Butler in three games in the final section series of the regular season; however, that momentum did not carry over to the postseason as Seneca Valley fell to eventual champion Mt. Lebanon, 2-1. As they always are, the Raiders will be in the mix for gold this spring with eight returning starters. Seneca Valley has three Division I recruits in senior catcher Creed Erdos heading to James Madison, senior pitcher Owen Yarussi committed to Auburn, and junior newcomer Ryan Piekutoski, who is headed to Manhattan.

3. Mt. Lebanon (16-11)

In a season in which the start was so forgettable, Mt. Lebanon finished its turnaround in golden style to finalize a season to remember. The Blue Devils began 2023 0-8 and were 3-6 in the section and 3-9 overall when they finished with 16 victories in their final 19 games. The young man who made history with a no-hitter in the finals, David Shields, returns for one more spring before heading south to pitch at Miami. Also returning for two-time champion Mt. Lebanon is senior outfielder Danny Clevenger, a Point Park recruit, along with senior catcher Nolan Smith, a Gannon recruit.

4. Hempfield (11-10)

Hempfield was flying high, sitting in first place in Section 2-6A with a 7-1 record after beating Canon-McMillan in the first two games of their three-game weekly series in mid-April. However, a loss to the Big Macs, a series sweep by Mt. Lebanon and losses in the first two games against rival Norwin dropped the Spartans to the middle of the pack. A lot of key players return for Hempfield, as the Spartans expect to be in the hunt for a section title thanks to junior pitcher and Penn State recruit, Dylan Firmstone, Cal (Pa.) commit and senior outfielder Ethan Minerva, Pitt-Johnstown recruit and senior pitcher and outfielder Parker Donsen and Seton Hill commit and senior catcher Carson Shuglie.

5. Pine-Richland (15-7)

The most prolific offense in Class 6A a year ago was shining bright in the district quarterfinals, but the red-hot flame was doused come the WPIAL semifinals. Pine-Richland was the only 6A team to average over six runs per game (6.7). The Rams scored in double digit nine times, including a wild 14-12 shootout victory over Hempfield in the WPIAL quarters. However, the ammo was empty in the semis and Pine-Richland fell to eventual champion Mt. Lebanon. The Rams are another team with a rep of reloading quickly after graduating two all-section players from 2023. Junior outfielder Anthony Mangine had a strong sophomore season, hitting .333 with 22 runs scored and 12 RBI, and he joins senior outfielder and infielder Randal Peyton-Ford (Cal (Pa.)) and senior pitcher Nathan Kush (Denison) as top returners for the Rams.

Players to watch

Liam McElroy, Sr., P/OF, Butler

Mavrik Clement, Soph., INF, Butler

J.D. Costanzo, Sr., P/OF, North Allegheny

Charles Mau, Sr., P/OF, North Allegheny

David Posey, Sr., P/INF, North Allegheny

Nico Varlotta, Jr., P, North Allegheny

Greg Schmidt, Sr., P, North Allegheny

Anthony Mengine, Jr., OF, Pine-Richland

Randal Peyton-Ford, Sr., INF/OF, Pine-Richland

Creed Erdos, Sr., C, Seneca Valley

Hunter Troiano, Sr., IF, Seneca Valley

Zach Tkatch, Sr., P, Seneca Valley

Ryan Piekutoski, Jr., C, Seneca Valley

Owen Yarussi, Sr., P, Seneca Valley

Luke Anderton, Sr., INF, Seneca Valley

Zyler Freedman, Sr., P, Seneca Valley

Ben Peterson, Jr., C, Canon-McMillan

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

Andres Hurkmans, Sr., OF, Central Catholic

Carson Shuglie, Sr., C, Hempfield

Dylan Firmstone, Jr., P, Hempfield

Parker Donsen, Sr., P/OF, Hempfield

Ethan Minerva, Sr., OF, Hempfield

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

Nolan Smith, Sr., C/INF, Mt. Lebanon

Danny Clevenger, Sr., OF, Mt. Lebanon

Keegan Carr, Sr., IF, Norwin

Tyler Cupp, Sr., C, Norwin

Diamond notes

• Mt. Lebanon made history last spring when it became the first team in the brief history of WPIAL 6A baseball to repeat as district champions. The four previous 6A champs were Pine-Richland in 2017 and 2019, Canon-McMillan in 2018 and North Allegheny in 2020. Prior to Lebo last year, the last school to repeat as WPIAL baseball champions in the highest classification was Seneca Valley in 4A in 2011 and 2012.

• The championship run for Mt. Lebanon last spring was the program’s sixth WPIAL crown. It also won titles in 1959, 1993, 2002, 2006 and 2022. The six titles tie the Blue Devils for third place on the all-time district baseball championship list with five other schools. North Allegheny has the most with eight while Pine-Richland is among those tied with Mt. Lebanon for third most.

• There were plenty of ties in 6A baseball in 2023. Canon-McMillan won the Section 2-6A title, finishing one game ahead of eventual champion Mt. Lebanon. Rivals Hempfield and Norwin both qualified after finishing tied for third place. There were tri-champions atop Section 1-6A as North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland finished tied for first place and all shared the section crown. Butler was in the fight for first place until the final series when it was swept by Seneca Valley and finished two games back.

• Five years ago, Pine-Richland captured its second Class 6A baseball championship in three years. The Rams allowed only one run in beating Norwin in the quarterfinals and Bethel Park in the semifinals. In the title game, Pine-Richland knocked off Penn-Trafford, 7-2, to win the school’s sixth and most recent district title. Six years ago, Canon-McMillan won WPIAL gold, then became the first and only District 7 school to win a PIAA 6A baseball championship when it defeated Bensalem, 10-3.

• Once again this season in 6A, there will be three-game section series instead of the two-game series other classes are scheduled to play, in part because of the small class size with only 11 teams. Despite the low numbers, 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 team 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, with an outside chance all 11 could qualify.

2024 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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