After early playoff exit, North Allegheny aims to ‘get that fire back’

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Saturday, March 18, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The gaggle of professional baseball scouts is gone, but that doesn’t mean there’s a quiet atmosphere nowadays at North Allegheny practices.

“Quieter from the external side of things? Yes,” North Allegheny coach Andrew Heck said. “Quieter from the internal side of things? No. We felt like we need to make some changes. We were not happy about last year being an early exit and we felt like we needed to revamp ourselves in a sense.”

Last year’s team was headlined by 2022 MLB Draft first-rounder Cole Young, a star shortstop who drew scouts to all of their games. But the Tigers’ solid season ended disappointingly with a first-round exit in the WPIAL playoffs, a loss that led to some self-reflection for the team.

In 2021, they were WPIAL champions and state runners-up.

“We’ve got to grow as a team,” Heck said. “Get that hunger and get that fire back.”

North Allegheny went 15-6 last season and shared the Section 1-6A title with Pine-Richland. The team brings back enough talent to contend again.

They return a handful of starters, including West Virginia recruit Spencer Barnett, a senior infielder who’ll shift from second base to shortstop. Barnett tied for second on the team with 14 RBIs and was third with 15 runs.

Overall, the Tigers have more experience in the infield than outfield, Heck said, despite Young’s graduation. He’s now a minor leaguer for the Seattle Mariners.

Junior first baseman David Posey (10 RBIs) and senior third baseman Andrew Hart (14 RBIs) are both returning starters. The Tigers also added a second baseman with some experience in sophomore Augie Maslo, who transferred from North Catholic, where he started as a freshman.

However, the roster turnover affected the lineup more at catcher, outfield and pitcher. Most notably, Kennesaw State catcher recruit Aaron Posey graduated, leaving the job to senior Ian Zahorchak.

In the outfield, the starting jobs are less settled. The team graduated Denison recruit Erik Sundgren but returns three seniors who saw playing time. Harron Lee saw the most with 14 hits in 60 at-bats, followed by Drew Dougherty (six hits in 29 ABs) and Anthony Varlotta (six in 15).

Their success could determine the team’s potential.

“The biggest question mark for us is the outfield,” Heck said. “We lost some pieces. … We’re going to have to find some things out about ourselves early on.”

That’s also true for the pitching staff. Cal (Pa.) recruit Connor Smith has graduated after throwing a team-high 44 innings last season. Hart, the team’s third baseman, will lead this year’s pitching staff. Hart threw 17 1/3 innings last season and will be joined in the rotation by a deep group of underclassmen.

“We have some really good arms,” Heck said. “I feel like this is the most depth we’ve ever had and the great part about it is we’re relatively young on the pitching end.”

The team has a slightly smaller section this season. The WPIAL shifted Central Catholic to Section 2, leaving North Allegheny in Section 1 with just four opponents. The others are Allderdice, Butler, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley.

There are only two sections in Class 6A. The other section now has Baldwin, Canon-McMillan, Central Catholic, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon and Norwin. The top four teams from each section qualify for the playoffs.

Heck said he wasn’t too disappointed to see Central Catholic move out.

“It was a gauntlet already,” he said. “Central is a very good team. When you had us, Central, Seneca, Pine and Butler all in the same section, somebody gets left out.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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