Breaking down the 2018 WPIAL baseball playoffs
By: Chris Harlan
Friday, May 11, 2018 | 9:18 PM
Here's a breakdown of the 2018 WPIAL baseball playoffs.
Favorite: Winning Section 1 makes Central Catholic a title favorite. The teams in that northern section have won the WPIAL's largest classification eight of the past nine seasons. Central won Class 4A in 2015. Led by outfielder Andrew Walker (.451, 26 runs, 12 RBIs) and pitcher Marshall McGraw (9-0, 1.04 ERA), the Vikings finished this year's schedule strong with seven consecutive victories.
Challengers: Nobody is hotter than Bethel Park, which rides a 14-game winning streak into the playoffs. The Black Hawks have a deep pitching staff (three pitchers with five starts each) led by senior Justin Meis (5-1, 1.42 ERA) and freshman Eric Chalus (4-1, 1.44 ERA). Hempfield knows its competition well, having lost to Bethel, 5-4, and defeated Central Catholic, 7-4, both in April. Luke Hudson leads Hempfield with a .435 average, 23 RBIs, 20 runs, 12 stolen bases and three homers. The Spartans have four batters hitting .400 or better. Canon-McMillan is a tough matchup with ace Zach Rohaley, who's 8-1 with an 0.88 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 48 innings. Pine-Richland defeated North Allegheny, 3-2, in last year's WPIAL finals.
Don't overlook: Plum finished second to Hempfield and settled for a No. 5 seed, but the Mustangs won 10 of their last 11 contests.
Prediction: Bethel Park over Canon-McMillan
Favorite: The WPIAL baseball committee believed Section 2 co-champions Moon and West Allegheny were the two top teams in 5A overall. Moon earned the No. 1 seed for its better nonsection schedule and a head-to-head victory over West A late in the season. The team has a pair of two-way stars in Nick Maue and Sevin Schoeneweis. Maue is 5-1 with a 1.85 ERA but also hits .302. Schoeneweis is batting .421 while throwing the second-most innings.
Challengers: West Allegheny lost just once all season, 11-5 to Moon on May 2. The Indians are led by sophomore Austin Hendrick, who's hitting .484 with 18 runs and 12 RBIs. He's also 2-0 pitching with a 0.81 ERA, joining Conner Bartley (4-0, 0.50) atop the team's pitching rotation. Laurel Highlands can certainly score runs. The Mustangs have three batters hitting better than .500 and reached double digits in runs nine times, led by Travis Sankovich (.532, 24 runs, 17 RBIs). North Hills finished a game ahead of Mars and Hampton in Section 1, but lost to both the second time through the schedule. Mars has one of the top pitchers in Will Bednar, who's 6-0 with an 0.55 ERA and 76 strikeouts.
Don't overlook: Chartiers Valley's record isn't great, but it includes one-run losses to Class 6A contenders Bethel Park and Hempfield.
Prediction: West Allegheny over Mars
Favorite: Defending champion Blackhawk is the clear favorite to repeat in Class 4A. The Cougars have dominant pitching from Slippery Rock recruit Andrew McClymonds and Wake Forrest recruit Mike Turconi. McClymonds is 6-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 38 innings. Turconi is 5-0 with a 0.67 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 31 innings. Both also are hitting better than .400, two of the four batters on the team above that mark: Turconi .609, Zach Zuchelli .435, McClymonds .407 and Jarrett Wright .404.
Challengers: Section rival South Fayette came close to knocking off Blackhawk twice. They have seven hitters with an average above .350, led by Ryan Kokoski (.500) and Joey Alcorn (.400, 22 runs). Section 1 champion Knoch had won eight in a row and 14 of 15 before losing to Class 6A Pine-Richland and Butler this week. Knoch won a WPIAL title in 2015. Ringgold won Section 3 behind pitchers Chase Angotti (4-1, 1.68), Ryan Varley (4-0, 0.89) and Bo Haines (5-0, 1.88).
Don't overlook: Freeport earned the fifth seed as the second-place team in Section 1, but all three of its losses were by one run.
Prediction: Blackhawk over Knoch
Favorite: Riverside is chasing the first WPIAL baseball three-peat since Pine-Richland won three in a row in 2004-06. The Panthers have a solid pitching combination with seniors Danny Fox (6-0, 0.67 ERA) and Gunnar Boehm (6-1, 0.70) atop the rotation. Combined, they've struck out 108 batters in 81 innings. Ty Thellman leads the offense with a .460 average. Austin Dambach is hitting .457 with 20 RBIs and four of the team's 11 home runs.
Challengers: The WPIAL committee showed much respect for Section 2. Three teams from that same section received the top three overall seeds — Riverside, Avonworth and South Side Beaver. Avonworth boosted its stock with late-season nonsection wins over WPIAL top-seeds Serra Catholic, 4-3, and Vincentian Academy, 5-2. South Side also defeated Vincentian, 8-5. Section 3 champion Brownsville enters the playoffs with a seven-game winning streak. Valley and Burrell shared the Section 1 title but earned the No. 5 and 6 seeds.
Don't overlook: Steel Valley finished third in Section 1, but the 2014 WPIAL champions split with Burrell and Valley.
Prediction: Riverside over Avonworth
Favorite: Serra Catholic has outscored teams 243-20 behind a strong batting order that has six .400 hitters and five batters with at least 20 RBIs. Mark Black leads them with a .629 average, 42 RBIs and five home runs. But the Eagles aren't all offense. Nate Pionta is 7-0 with a 1.21 ERA, Zack Bowen is 4-0 with an 0.86 ERA and Ben Bowen is 5-1 with a 0.58 ERA. The only team to defeat Serra was Class 3A second-seed Avonworth, 4-3. Serra won WPIAL Class A titles in 2009, '10 and '16.
Challengers: Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, which reached double digits in runs eight times, might be able to keep pace with Serra Catholic. CWNC finished a game ahead of third-seed Neshannock in Section 2 after sweeping the Lancers, 9-7 and 5-2. Carmichaels won Section 1 behind Dylan Wilson (.397, 23 RBIs) and Al Cree (.439, 18 RBIs).Neshannock seeks its fourth WPIAL title in eight years after winning in 2011, '12 and '15.
Don't overlook: Shenango tied for third in Section 2, but the Wildcats split with Neshannock, and took close 6-5 and 5-3 losses against Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. Shenango has five hitters above .400, led by Jake Merkel at .469.
Prediction: Serra Catholic over CWNC
Favorite: Might this finally be Vincentian Academy's season? The talented Royals are seeded first for the second year in a row, but they so far haven't been able to convert their regular-season success into playoff wins. In the past nine playoffs, VA has six first-game losses including last season. However, this year's team has a hard-hitting lineup with seven batters averaging .400 or better. The leader is senior UConn recruit Kyler Fedko, who's batting .684 with 30 runs, 30 RBIs and six homers. Senior pitcher Stephen Turzai is 4-0 with a 1.68 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 25 innings.
Challengers: Union shared the Section 1 title with Vincentian and split their regular-season series, winning 9-8 and losing 4-3 to the Royals. Senior Matt Costello is a star two-way player for Union who's hitting .469 and has an 0.77 ERA. Quigley Catholic has won 13 in a row since a season-opening loss to Serra. Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette were the WPIAL finalists last year with Jeannette winning 7-3 in 12 innings. Nicolas Ruggeri leads GCC with 28 runs and Paul Rice has 21 RBIs. Jeannette's Tre Cunningham, a three-sport standout, is also top pitcher and hitter for the Jayhawks.
Don't overlook: Monessen won its final seven section games including 5-0 over Jeannette.
Prediction: Vincentian over Greensburg Central Catholic