Blackhawk shuts out Knoch in WPIAL playoff opener

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 | 10:59 PM

A play in the top of the first inning proved pivotal in Wednesday night’s WPIAL Class 4A playoff baseball game between Blackhawk and Knoch.

Knights runner Sean McGill was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Braden Tristiani’s double.

Knoch only got one player to third base after that as Blackhawk, behind the complete-game shutout pitching of Marco Borello, defeated the Knights, 4-0, in a playoff opener at Neshannock’s Mike Kirkland Field.

The fourth-seeded Cougars (14-4) scored a pair of runs in the second inning and added single runs in the third and the fifth to advance to the quarterfinals against Mt. Pleasant early next week at a site and time to be determined.

Blackhawk is in the playoffs for the 18th consecutive season.

“That was huge,” Cougars coach Bob Amalia said. “Our left fielder (Hunter Woodward) got a great jump on the ball, he threw it perfectly to Zach Zuchelli.

“With his hands out, Zach threw a perfect strike to home plate, and Justin Nixon did a great job catching the ball and tagging the guy.”

Knoch coach Sean O’ Donnell didn’t second guess sending McGill while coaching at third.

“To be honest, I would do it again, 10 out of 10 times,” he said. “We get a rip to the gap and they make two great throws. For them, and for us, it was a huge play in the first inning. If we score there, get ahead, that’s huge in a playoff game.”

The 13th-seeded Knights (10-8) had several other opportunities, but couldn’t convert.

Knoch went down in order just once during the game.

“We had guys on most innings, we couldn’t get that big hit,” O’Donnell said. “That’s how the second half of our season has gone. We’ve had guys on base, guys on base, couldn’t get that big hit.”

By contrast, Blackhawk got its share of key hits, starting in the second when Matthew Randza doubled home Wright, then scored on a force play later in the inning.

In the third, Creighton Carter brought home Ray Knallay, and in the fifth, Borello tripled on a ball that barely eluded Knoch center fielder Ethan Sloane. An infield error allowed Borello to come home.

“I think we’re prepared more, as far as swinging the bat and fielding the ball under pressure,” Amalia said. “We’ve had a lot of close games, a ton of competitive games.”

McGill and Gavin Phillips had two base hits each to pace the Knoch attack, and Nixon had two singles for Blackhawk as Borello outdueled Jack Bartek.

Both pitchers went the distance and neither pitcher yielded a walk. Borello is now 6-3 on the season.

Blackhawk was a section title-winner for the 13th time under Amalia.

It wasn’t a total lost day for O’ Donnell. He noted that his alma mater, St. Joseph, won a playoff game Wednesday in the school’s first postseason appearance since 2000 when he was part of the team.

Check out an archived broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

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