Franklin Regional baseball advances to WPIAL semifinals for 1st time since 2001
By: Bill Beckner Jr.
Tuesday, May 21, 2019 | 8:29 PM
Andrew Muraco changed gloves, then helped Franklin Regional change momentum in the sixth inning.
The sophomore pitched five-plus innings before moving to right field, but he had an immediate impact at his new position.
Muraco made one of two key defensive plays that not only eliminated baserunners for which he was responsible but also squashed South Fayette’s late push as the Panthers extended their season with a 6-5 playoff win Tuesday over the hard-charging Lions.
A thrilling double play — Muraco to Jake Williams to Louie Kegerreis — highlighted the hold-on victory for No. 2 seed Franklin Regional (17-1) in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals at West Mifflin.
“There were some big moments. We just all stuck together. We’re family, and we fight for each other,” said Muraco, who was the winning pitcher and also hit a two-run homer. “We always find a way to get it done.”
Suddenly, the Panthers (17-1) are headed to the semifinals for the first time since 2001, which also was the last year they made the finals.
They will have a quick turnaround. They play No. 6 Laurel Highlands (13-6) at 4 p.m. Wednesday for the right to go to the title game next week at Wild Things Park in Washington.
“There is so much self-confidence on this team,” Panthers coach Bobby Saddler said. “I knew they would feel their way through the pressure. Time and again, when they are tested, they answer the bell. When their backs are against the wall, they’re going to come at you. They’re out to win it for each other.”
No. 7 South Fayette, which came back from a 5-0 deficit, ends the season at 12-8. The Lions won the Class 4A title last season.
Franklin Regional was outhit, 9-5, and allowed the Lions to get back into the game with two errors in the fourth inning. But the sixth more than made up for the misfires after the Panthers saw a five-run lead shrink to one.
The first big out of the inning came with a side of baseball IQ. South Fayette’s Ryan Kokoski stepped in with two on — both via walks — and nobody out. He bunted to third, but catcher Bryce Harper quickly scooped the ball and snapped to Williams at third to cut off the lead runner and render the sacrifice lost.
Then, Joey Alcorn lined a sinking drive to right. Muraco made a sliding attempt but the ball came loose. He didn’t fret, though, as he recovered and fired to Williams at second, who then relayed to Kegerreis, who tagged out a sliding Tyler Sharp for a 9-6-5 double play.
“I just went with my instinct and ran in and tried to dive and catch it,” Muraco said.
Kegerreis, who had a double and two RBIs, said: “I thought he dropped it, but he instantly bounced back up and made the play. That was a big dagger.”
The lead remained 6-4 when it could easily have been flipped had Muraco not bounced back.
“He didn’t panic,” Saddler said. “He kind of trapped the ball, got up and threw to second. J-Will knew what to do, tagging the kid and quickly getting the ball to Lou.
“So many things could have gone wrong there.”
Muraco left after 101 pitches and gave way to Connor Helm who, despite allowing a run in the seventh, earned the save.
Center fielder Tommy Kegerreis added an RBI triple to the gap in left center, and Muraco clubbed a two-run homer — a lefty off a lefty — during a five-run third for the Panthers.
“We could have swung it a little bit better but we got the job done,” Muraco said.
Louie Kegerreis added a sacrifice fly. His two-out double made it 6-4 in the fourth.
“This team fights hard, no matter what comes at us,” Louie Kegerreis said. “Everybody does their job. We knew we needed some insurance runs to help our pitcher.”
Alcorn, Ryan McGuire and Nolan Lutz had two hits apiece for South Fayette, which tallied four runs in the fourth, two via errors.
McGuire’s infield single brought a run around in the seventh with two outs. The Lions used three pitchers: Ryan Kokoski, Noah Scheel and Alcorn.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .