Avonworth dethrones Riverside in marathon 14-inning WPIAL Class 3A title game

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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | 8:27 PM


A 14-inning game in the WPIAL finals is almost unthinkable, but Avonworth catcher Mason Metz thought the outcome might go down as the biggest surprise from Tuesday night’s marathon.

That’s because his underdog Antelopes won.

“They saw a No. 7 next to our name, said we didn’t play anyone in the playoffs and thought we weren’t going to be here and win it,” said Metz, a junior. “So for us to win it after 14 innings, against a great team that won everything last year, feels really good.”

It took a record-breaking effort.

Avonworth’s Luke Zelinko lined an RBI single into left field that scored Metz in the 14th inning as the seventh-seeded Antelopes defeated No. 1 Riverside, 4-3, in the WPIAL Class 3A final at Wild Things Park. The championship game was the longest in WPIAL finals history since the games moved to Washington in 2003, topping two others that had lasted 12 innings.

It lasted 4 hours, 3 minutes.

Avonworth sophomore Cooper Scharding, who took the mound with two outs in the seventh, allowed two hits over 7⅓ scoreless innings in relief for the win.

Metz reached base four times and scored three runs. Scharding also scored a run.

“I didn’t think it was going to take that many innings,” Scharding said. “This was such a long game, and we showed so much grit.”

The WPIAL title was the second overall and first since 1992 for Avonworth (16-8).

Antelopes coach Jeff Bywalski said he took over the program two years ago with expectations of winning a WPIAL title. The team reached the semifinals last year.

“Since day one when I came in here, I told those guys that Avonworth is a great baseball program. They’ve been great, but they haven’t knocked the door down to win a championship,” Bywalski said.

“I said, ‘Guys, I’m not here to win section titles. I’m not here to get to semifinals,” he added. “We’ve got to win a WPIAL title. Those guys bought in, they believed, and here we are. We got our first one since ’92.”

Riverside (16-2) was the favorite as the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion with hard-throwing junior and Duke commit Christian Lucarelli on the mound. The Panthers kept their hopes alive by scoring a dramatic run with two outs in the seventh inning to force extra innings, but couldn’t scratch out another one in the next seven innings.

“We’ll bounce back,” Riverside coach Dan Oliastro said. “We’ve been here before. In ‘05 and ’12, we did the same thing. We lost here and then won the whole thing. This team still can do it.”

Riverside had a runner reach base in the 10th inning and two each in the 11th and 12th, but Scharding stranded them all. Scharding came into the game with two runners on base and also escaped that seventh-inning jam with an inning-ending strikeout.

“We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had,” Oliastro said.

Metz led off Avonworth’s 14th inning with a double and Zelinko lined a two-out single to left for his second RBI of the game. The run was the first for either team in extra innings thanks largely to the pitching of Scharding and two Riverside relievers.

“It was unbelievable,” Bywalski said. “Who would’ve thought it would take 14 innings?”

Scharding allowed two hits and three walks in 7⅓ innings while striking out nine. He relieved senior starter Aidan Tinker, who allowed three runs on nine hits in 6⅔ innings. Tinker walked one and struck out five.

“Those two are as good as anybody,” Bywalski said. “The guys that threw against us were very good, too. Don’t get me wrong. But guess what? I’ll take my two guys, too. They’re battle tested and they compete.”

Lucarelli allowed four hits and two runs in 3⅔ innings as Riverside’s starter, but five walks inflated his pitch count. He struck out seven.

Riverside reliever Zack Hare allowed one run on five hits and two walks in 7⅓ innings. Hunter Garvin pitched three innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk.

“To go 14 innings and they score four runs off us, our pitching was good,” Oliastro said.

Riverside took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Daren McDade hit a leadoff single and later scored on a single by John Bowser.

In the fourth, Avonworth used two hits and three walks to score twice and take a 2-1 lead. Alex Rowe had an RBI single, and Lucarelli later forced in another run with a bases-loaded walk that ended his day.

Riverside answered quickly with a run later in the fourth for a 2-2 tie. McDade hit a leadoff triple and scored on a two-out fielding error by Avonworth.

Hare relieved Lucarelli and pitched into the seventh before giving way to Garvin in the ninth. Hare later returned to the mound in the 11th, before Gavin took over again in the 13th.

Avonworth retook the lead, 3-2, in the fifth with a two-out RBI single by Zelinko.

In the seventh, Riverside’s game-tying rally was a roller-coaster ride. Leadoff batter Sean Hayes was hit by a pitch but later got doubled off trying to reach third base on a sacrifice bunt.

With two outs, the Panthers found new life when Garvin singled and Hare reached base on an Avonworth throwing error. Drake Fox followed with an RBI single for a 3-3 tie.

In the 11th, Avonworth left the bases loaded when Hare got an inning-ending strikeout after an intentional walk. But three innings later, the Antelopes were able to capitalize on Metz’s leadoff double.

“I had a feeling one of my teammates was going to come through, get a clutch hit and score me,” Metz said. “As soon as I got on second, I knew that was it.”

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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