Coaches rave about new 3-game series for WPIAL Class 6A baseball

Thursday, April 13, 2023 | 3:02 PM

Let’s play … three?

The WPIAL went to three-game series this season in Class 6A baseball, and the change has been met with warmth from local coaches who must develop pitching depth to stay sharp and earn sweeps or series wins.

Baseball long has been a chess match, and the shift to series drives that point home for coaches who can’t simply trot out their top pitcher against the same opponent every time.

Pitch counts and rest matter even more than they did before.

“It brings a lot of strategy into the series,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “There are a lot of factors you have to take into account and makes it super fun for the coaching staff. It certainly makes the games more competitive.”

Hempfield upset No. 1 Central Catholic, 2-0, last week a day after losing to the Vikings, 8-6. The Spartans then took the third game 7-3.

With the back-and-forth in a series, the standings can change drastically in a couple of days.

“Baseball is a game that is played in a series,” said Bob Bozzuto, chairman of the WPIAL baseball committee and the district’s representative on the PIAA baseball board. “It is not the team that has the best pitcher. It comes down to the pitching staff as well as the entire team.”

Class 6A has just 11 teams that are split into two sections. Section 1 has five teams, so each plays one another three times for 12 games. Section 2 teams play 15 section games, three against five opponents.

The series feature back-to-back games, one at each home field, with a day off, then a third game.

The off day allows for any weather disruptions, and rest time.

“I don’t mind the new format,” Norwin first-year coach Craig Spisak said. “I like it as it’s set up with Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

Norwin took two out of three games against Baldwin in its first taste of the three-game format. The games, however, were played three days in a row because of weather concerns.

“The biggest challenge is pitching,” Spisak said. “Making sure you are covered for all three games. It reminds me of a hockey playoff series where you get to know your opponent very well over the course of the week. You get to know the hitters and the strengths and weaknesses.”

Bozzuto said the new format is meant to level the playing field, even with teams that have top-heavy pitching staffs.

“There is no advantage,” he said. “Every team has the opportunity to develop their team. There is a great deal of strategy involved in series play, and there will be great interest as you go into Game 3 of the series.”

Last week, when the first three-game series were played, a number of teams split the first two games.

Not all 6A schools have turf fields, so wet weather can wipe out a home game quickly for some teams. And with the urgency to play the series on time, games could easily shift to the opponents’ field because they have turf.

“The biggest challenge is the weather,” said Buzzard, whose team was looking for a sweep of Baldwin on Thursday. “It also hurts if you do not have a turf facility. You could be at a disadvantage because you have to decide if you would rather get a home game or complete the series in the weekly window.”

Norwin and Hempfield will meet for three games May 1, 2 and 4.

The remainder of the WPIAL classifications (5A through A) use two-game series.

Franklin Regional bounced back from its first loss of the season, 3-1 against Gateway, with a 13-3, run-ruled win in Game 2.

“I love the series part,” Franklin Regional coach Bobby Saddler said. “I wish we had the three-game series in 5A. I like that you have a chance to bounce back right away if you lose. And it builds rivalries. The teams know each other better.”

Saddler said coaches want to see the WPIAL playoffs use a series format.

Bozzuto said there are ongoing discussions about increasing the number of playoff games.

“We’re crawling before we walk,” he said previously. “Hopefully later on, we run.”

Teams still are limited to 20 regular-season games.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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