Anthony Miller’s 12 Ks lead New Castle to 1st appearance in state baseball finals

Monday, June 14, 2021 | 7:40 PM

Maybe the big-game atmosphere had Anthony Miller feeling ready, seeing hundreds of New Castle fans filter into Neshannock’s baseball field. Maybe it was the fact his Red Hurricanes were one win away from the state finals.

Whatever it was, Miller felt fantastic.

“He said, ‘Coach, listen, I have it today. I’m just going to let you know, I haven’t felt this good all year,’” said his coach, Bill Cook, remembering their pregame talk. “A statement like that coming out of a guy who’s thrown a no-hitter … to hear that, it’s a good feeling as a head coach.”

It wasn’t just talk.

The sophomore starter and Notre Dame commit threw a four-hitter and struck out 12, including the last three in order, Monday as New Castle defeated Montour, 3-1, in a PIAA Class 4A semifinal that drew enough fans to surround the field.

Miller also had two hits and scored twice.

The game was part of a doubleheader that included Shenango, another Lawrence County school, in the nightcap. The PIAA sold 2,027 tickets for the two games, and the majority was there early to see nearby New Castle secure its first state championship trip in team history.

At one point Monday, while on deck to bat, Miller caught himself looking into the crowd and thinking: “This is a lot of people.”

“The atmosphere was electric,” he said. “We felt amazing.”

His coach agreed.

“I stopped, took a deep breath, looked around and said, ‘This is unbelievable,’” Cook said. “These kids, most of them will never play in front of a crowd this big again. It’s a tremendous feeling.”

Now, they’re hopeful many of those wearing red and black might follow them to Penn State. The PIAA final is 1:30 p.m. Friday against District 2 champion Wyoming Area at PSU’s Medlar Field. Two weeks after winning the team’s first WPIAL title, New Castle could add a state title.

“The feeling right now, I wish I had the word for it. I don’t,” Cook said. “It’s an emotional feeling. It’s a happy feeling.”

This was the fourth meeting this season for Montour (17-9) and New Castle (18-9), who share a section. Montour won twice in the regular season, but New Castle won both in the postseason. That includes New Castle’s 5-0 win over Montour in the WPIAL finals June 2.

“We felt confident,” Miller said of facing Montour again. “We were playing close to home, and we’d just beat them a couple of weeks ago. We felt like we had the energy.”

Kent State recruit Rocco Bernadina pitched a one-hitter against Montour in the WPIAL finals, but New Castle turned to Miller Monday for the state semifinal. Miller was efficient. He scattered four hits — all singles — walked one and hit two batters in seven innings. The right-hander reached the 105-pitch limit while facing Montour’s final batter of the day, and struck him out to finish the complete game.

“I didn’t know which pitcher we’d see until we got here,” Montour coach Bob Janeda said. “He worked fast. We tried to mess up his tempo a little bit but he was good. He was zoned in. The kid’s a really good player.”

Gannon Kadlecik pitched the first four inning for Montour, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks. Mason Sike handled the final three innings in relief. Sike gave up one run on three hits.

New Castle scored twice in the first inning and added one in the fifth.

In the first, Dom Fornataro walked, Miller singled and Bernadina followed with an RBI single. Miller scored later on a Montour throwing error for a 2-0 lead.

In the fifth, Miller hit a leadoff single, stole second and scored on Logan Gibson’s two-out single.

That was enough run support for Miller, who improved to 9-1 with a 1.62 ERA. The right-hander worked the edges of the strike zone and drew a number of called strikes early in at-bats.

Miller struck out two batters apiece in the first three innings. In the fifth and seventh combined, he struck out all six.

Montour’s only run came in the fourth on an RBI single by Sike.

“He was ‘all over,’” Cook said. “And when I say ‘all over,’ I mean every corner of the plate. He was on today. Every pitch — his fastball, his curveball, his change-up — he was in the zone.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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