Despite loss in WPIAL quarterfinals, Gateway baseball celebrates successful season

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Friday, May 24, 2019 | 7:01 PM


There are 20 baseball teams in WPIAL Class 5A, and if all but one those teams measured success by winning a championship, there wouldn’t be much to play for.

Gateway fell short of its goal of bringing home a WPIAL title, but overall, the Gators had one of the program’s most successful seasons.

“Just us making the second round of the playoffs this year was the furthest we’ve made it since the early ’90s; 1993-94 was the last time we made it (to the quarterfinals),” Gateway coach Mark Wardzinski said. “It was good that we got back there, but it just didn’t work out this year. It just gives us something to work for next year.”

Gateway (13-7) earned its success this season. The Gators were part of arguably the most competitive section in Class 5A: Section 1. The Gators held their own against the section heavyweights and finished second with a record of 9-3 behind rival Franklin Regional (17-2, 10-0).

Section 1 was up this season. There wasn’t one team the Gators could look at on the schedule and pencil in a win. Every game was a contest.

“A lot of our games were close games against great competition,” Wardzinski said. “It was a tough section with Franklin Regional, Fox Chapel, Kiski, Armstrong, and even Woodland Hills and Penn Hills were good teams.”

Once the dust settled, Fox Chapel (10-8) and Kiski Area (9-11) also qualified for the postseason.

Wardzinski, who is in his second stint as coach, didn’t pad the nonsection schedule. Sure, it would have been easy to go out and schedule inferior competition, but that’s not how he wants to build a winner.

The Gators went up against Class 6A powerhouse Penn-Trafford and suffered a 10-9 loss and an 8-5 loss to rival Plum. Growing pains can be uncomfortable but are also necessary.

“It was a great season for competition,” Wardzinski said.

The section got respect around the WPIAL as both Franklin Regional and the Gators earned first-round byes in the Class 5A bracket with No. 2 and No. 4 seeds, respectively.

“Getting a fourth seed was a great accomplishment. We just wanted to take it a little further,” Wardzinski said.

For a team like Gateway, which hasn’t had recent postseason success, a first-round bye can also be the kiss of death. Outside of a few scrimmages, the Gators stood idle from any meaningful competition for nearly two weeks before the quarterfinal round opened.

Gateway traveled to a familiar place and suffered a familiar outcome, falling to a hot Shaler team at Fox Chapel. The Gators lost to Fox Chapel, 5-4, on the road this season.

The No. 5-seeded Titans escaped with a win partly by playing fundamental baseball.

Shaler’s Justin DeSabato scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the top of the seventh inning to deny the Gators a trip to the semifinals. It’s exactly the kind of loss that keeps the flame lit for next season.

“It was just a great game,” Wardzinski said. “We had our chances, and we just didn’t come through. That happens in baseball. Some days you got it, and some days you don’t.”

Shaler advanced to face No. 6 Laurel Highlands in the Class 5A title game.

Including the postseason, the Gators went 6-3 in one-run games this season.

“When you’re in every game, it’s just awesome to watch these guys play and play at that level,” Wardzinski said.

Junior Jordan Stancovich led the Gators at the plate with a .373 batting average. Stancovich ranked second on the team in hits (20), behind Anthony Cammuso (24), and led the team in doubles (five). Cammuso (.369), Tony Caggiano (.341), Ethan Birckbichler (.333), Ethan Frenchik (.323) and Jaired Lehman (.321) all put together solid seasons at the plate.

Cammuso also was the Gators’ ace on the hill. The junior finished with a 4-3 record and a 2.43 ERA. Frenchik and Lehman finished with identical 2-1 records while Joe Schultz went 3-0. With Frenchik being the exception, the Gators return their entire pitching staff next season.

While the WPIAL season is over for the Gators, most of the players will move onto the play for Wardzinski and his Monroeville Senior Legion team.

“This year, I’m taking on the Monroeville Legion team,” Wardzinski said. “A lot of the players are going to play for me this summer, go to a few tournaments and get back to work.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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