Breaking down the 2019 WPIAL baseball playoffs

Friday, May 10, 2019 | 7:00 PM

Class 6A

Favorite: Penn-Trafford has never won a WPIAL baseball title, but the Warriors enter this year’s playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Section 2 champion P-T owns early-season wins over North Allegheny (6-5) and Pine-Richland (13-2). Senior Mario Disso leads with a .351 average.

Challengers: Pine-Richland won Section 1 behind Penn State recruit Matt Wood (.456, 23 RBIs, 5 HRs) and Vanderbilt recruit Troy LaNeve (.351, 20 RBIs). Rams starters Alec Swartout (4-0, 0.94) and Matt Schietroma (4-0, 2.06) are both undefeated. North Allegheny was the WPIAL runner-up the past two seasons and enters the playoffs with an eight-game winning streak. NA’s top hitter is freshman infielder Cole Young (.407, 24 RBIs), who competed in MLB’s Pitch, Hit & Run finals as a 10-year-old. The Tigers defeated Pine-Richland, 2-0, on May 6. Section 3 champion Bethel Park has a strong lefty-righty combination in sophomore Eric Chalus (5-0, 0.49) and junior Evan Bromley (7-0, 1.52). Peters Township defeated Bethel twice.

Don’t overlook: Hempfield’s overall record isn’t great, but the Spartans won five of their last six, including a 7-6 victory over Penn-Trafford.

Prediction: Pine-Richland over North Allegheny

Class 5A

Favorite: West Allegheny has a high-powered offense, including six batters with an average better than .350, led by Logan Scheider (.448, 22 RBIs, 22 Rs) and Logan Malatak (.382, 28 RBIs, 25 Rs). Mississippi State recruit Austin Hendrick is batting .354 with 24 runs. The Indians won their last eight while outscoring opponents 84-12.

Challengers: Section 1 champion Franklin Regional lost only once all season: 10-9 at Plum on April 1. The Panthers reached the second round last year. Gateway lost two of its last three games, both one-run losses to Fox Chapel and Franklin Regional. The Gators’ Anthony Cammuso is batting .369 with 20 RBIs. Section 2 champion Hampton was a semifinalist last season. The Talbots played a tough nonsection schedule this season that includes close losses to Penn-Trafford, 2-1, Gateway, 5-4, and Freeport, 10-7.

Don’t overlook: Mars is the No. 8 seed but pitchers Joey Craska (Virginia Tech) and Will Bednar (Mississippi State) give the Planets a real chance to return to the final for the third year in a row. Bednar was injured early in the season but returned to the mound late.

Prediction: West Allegheny over Hampton

Class 4A

Favorite: Greensburg Salem has five batters hitting better than .400, including senior Matt Wicker (.426), who leads with 27 RBIs and 28 runs. Jack Oberdorf (.429, 24 R, 22 RBIs) and Noah Sweeney (.457) are hot bats in the lineup. They tied Yough for the Section 1 title, but the Lions earned the top seed in part because they won their most recent matchup 11-5 on May 1. The Lions reached the WPIAL semifinals last year.

Challengers: Thomas Jefferson went 6-14 overall last season in Class 5A, but the Jaguars bounced back to share the section title. Led by ace Jarett Bach, a Pitt recruit, Yough also experienced resurgence this year. The Cougars, who went 6-11 overall last year, own a 3-1 win over Greensburg Salem. This Blackhawk lineup maybe isn’t as star-powered as some recent teams, but the group won six of seven down the stretch. Fifth-seeded Ringgold, which shared the section title with TJ, is the defending state champion.

Don’t overlook: Beaver finished second to Blackhawk in Section 2 and came within a run of knocking off the Cougars in the regular-season finale.

Prediction: Blackhawk over Thomas Jefferson

Class 3A

Favorite: Freeport, led by ace Jarrett Heilman, won its final seven games to claim the Section 1 title. Heilman struck out 83 batters in 52 innings during the regular season, posted a 6-1 record and delivered a walk-off single to beat Deer Lakes for the section crown.

Challengers: Hopewell dropped down a classification after reaching the Class 4A semifinals last season. The Vikings nearly ran through their section undefeated but were tripped up by New Brighton, 7-5, on May 2. Keystone Oaks had won 12 in a row (including 27-1 over Beth-Center) before ending the regular season with consecutive nonsection losses. Freeport won Section 1 but the standings were tight all season with Deer Lakes (9-3), Steel Valley (9-3) and Burrell (8-4) all spending time near the top.

Don’t overlook: Deer Lakes lost three of its last five section games, but the Lancers could make a run behind two-way leader Greg Geis (5-1, 2.13 ERA, .396 avg., 15 RBIs).

Prediction: Keystone Oaks over Freeport

Class 2A

Favorite: Shenango, led by Division I recruits Ryan Perretti (Radford) and Anthony Ryan (Bowling Green), is seeking its first WPIAL baseball title. Perretti is batting .491 with 24 RBIs. Ryan is hitting .348 with 17 runs scored. The Wildcats reached double-digits in runs 10 times, including a season-high 20 runs in one game.

Challengers: Serra Catholic is seeking its fourth WPIAL title since 2009. The Eagles are led by junior catcher Mark Black, a St. John’s commit and possible MLB draft pick next year. Serra’s offense reached double-digits 11 times. All four Class 2A sections ended with co-champions at the top. Neshannock tied Shenango for the Section 2 title, but Lancers won the most-recent matchup 8-7 on April 29. Carmichaels and Chartiers-Houston were tied in Section 1, Seton LaSalle shared the title with Serra in Section 3 and Avonworth and OLSH tied for first in Section 4.

Don’t overlook: Brownsville is the third-place team from Section 1, but it’s also the defending WPIAL champion and riding a five-game winning streak.

Prediction: Shenango over Serra Catholic

Class A

Favorite: Section 2 champion California has three sophomores leading the lineup in RBIs: Jacob Piktel (.343, 23 RBIs), Brody Conner (.412, 19 RBIs) and Payton Conte (.400, 19 RBIs). Senior Jacob Swartz leads with a .542 average and 26 runs scored. The Trojans dropped from Class 2A, where they won the WPIAL title in 2017. They own a 14-game winning streak.

Challengers: Vincentian is the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion. The Royals have seven players hitting .380 or better, led by senior James Lutz (.511), who’s also scored a team-high 23 runs. Section 1 champion Union was the WPIAL runner-up last season. The Scotties won 12 of their last 13 this year, but was stung at Quigley Catholic, 10-2, on May 1. Greensburg Central Catholic was a semifinalist last year and WPIAL runner-up in 2016 and ’17. Quigley won nine of its final 10 games.

Don’t overlook: Monessen finished behind California in Section 2, but enters the playoffs with a six-game winning streak.

Prediction: California over Vincentian Academy

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

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