Freeport baseball surprised with top seed in WPIAL Class 3A playoffs

Friday, May 10, 2019 | 7:09 PM

A thrilling victory in Wednesday’s season finale gave Freeport more than just a section championship. Turns out it also provided quite a boost for the postseason.

The Yellowjackets, fresh off that walk-off win over Deer Lakes that secured the Section 1-3A title, learned Friday they received the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the WPIAL’s Class 3A bracket.

“It’s crazy,” Freeport coach Ed Carr said with a chuckle. “I’m surprised. I’m happy for our guys. You look at the newspapers throughout the year, so you’ve just got an idea that we’d be a 3 or a 4. I was just hoping to get a bye, but these guys worked really, really hard this year. It’s an improbable No. 1, but I’m proud of them.”

Freeport (13-5) closed the regular season on a seven-game winning streak, all in a tight section race, capping it off with the 3-2 victory over rival Deer Lakes, where Jarrett Heilman’s walk-off single finished a three-run bottom of the seventh inning.

That provided enough of a distance to give the Yellowjackets the top seed, ahead of No. 2 Hopewell and No. 3 Keystone Oaks, the other two section champions. The Yellowjackets will play the winner of the first-round game between No. 8 Waynesburg and No. 9 Freedom in the quarterfinals, with the date, time and location of that game to be determined.

“We feel like every game was a playoff game (down the stretch),” Carr said. “We feel confident that we played some really good teams.”

Nine Alle-Kiski Valley teams learned their fates for the playoffs, which begin Wednesday and Thursday.

Tight section races defined much of the regular season, and that bore out in the playoff brackets.

The Section 1-3A race between Freeport, Steel Valley, Deer Lakes and Burrell was one of the more entertaining, and those teams received top-seven seeds in the Class 3A postseason field: No. 1 (Freeport), 4 (Steel Valley), 6 (Deer Lakes) and 7 (Burrell).

“We played so many one-run games this year that when we do get into the playoffs and we do find ourselves down a run or up a run, I think we feel comfortable playing that,” Deer Lakes coach Josh Tysk said. “The fact that it’s happened so many times … we know we’re in the game, and we know that we can come out on top. It doesn’t always happen that way, but we know that we can every day.

Deer Lakes (11-8) will play No. 11 Ellwood City in the first round at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Neshannock.

Burrell, which finished fourth in Section 1-3A, is making its 20th playoff appearance in coach Mark Spohn’s 21 seasons. The Bucs (11-4), who made the WPIAL quarterfinals the last two seasons, will play No. 10 McGuffey at 2 p.m. Wednesday at West Mifflin.

Spohn predicted Thursday that Freeport would receive the No. 1 seed and was borne out correct.

“I know the four teams in our section are all good,” Spohn said. “That’s all I know. We’re all a play or two from beating each other.”

While Section 1-3A was maybe the tightest race, it wasn’t the only close one involving A-K Valley teams. Fox Chapel and Kiski Area emerged from Section 1-5A, with Kiski Area clinching its postseason berth on the final day of the regular season via an extra-inning walk-off.

Fox Chapel (10-7) received the No. 9 seed in 5A and will play No. 8 Mars at 4 p.m. Thursday at North Allegheny. Kiski Area (9-9) drew the No. 11 seed and will play No. 6 Laurel Highlands at 4 p.m. Thursday at Seton Hill.

“They’re a team, and I don’t think that they think anything’s too big for them to tackle,” Kiski Area coach Aaron Albert said. “We can play with anybody. We’re capable of competing. We may not have guys throwing 95 or 96, but we have a team and we’re excited. We’re just happy to get another bus ride together.”

Knoch (10-7) clinched its Class 4A playoff berth in its final section game of the regular season with a one-run win over Highlands. The Knights, making their eighth consecutive playoff appearance, drew the No. 13 seed and will play No. 4 Blackhawk at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Neshannock.

Highlands, meanwhile, snapped a postseason drought that dated to 2003. The Golden Rams (10-8) drew the No. 14 seed in 4A and will play No. 3 Thomas Jefferson at 4 p.m. Wednesday at West Mifflin.

“The excitement (of making the postseason), you can see it in their faces, you can see it in their eyes,” Highlands coach Jeff Campbell said. “Their self-esteem has just been boosted. When I first came on the job, we wanted to try to get these kids to realize instead of accepting losing, let’s learn how to win. This group of kids, they’ve accepted that role and succeeded.”

St. Joseph ended its own lengthy playoff drought, making the postseason for the first time since 2000. The Spartans (7-7), who tied Leechburg for third place in Section 3-A, received the No. 11 seed in Class A and will play No. 6 Monessen at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Seton Hill.

Leechburg (7-9) drew the No. 13 seed and will play No. 4 Quigley Catholic at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Seneca Valley.

The WPIAL championship games will take place May 28 and 29 at Wild Things Park in Washington.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .

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