Justin Ferrari’s homer drives Chartiers Valley past West Mifflin

Monday, May 1, 2023 | 10:00 PM

On a less-than-ideal weather day, Chartiers Valley jumped in its Ferrari and cruised to at least a share of the section title.

Colts senior Justin Ferrari smacked his first career home run in the top of the eighth, then Chartiers Valley held on in the bottom of the inning to defeat defending Class 4A champion West Mifflin, 2-1.

The first of two showdowns between the Colts and Titans for the Section 3-4A title was played on the turf at West Mifflin in on-again, off-again rain with temperatures barely in the 40s.

“I don’t think I’ve coached or played in this bad of weather,” Chartiers Valley coach Curt Cairns said. “It’s tough weather to play in, it’s tough to stay loose, and it’s tough for pitchers to keep their arms loose between innings. It’s cold and these conditions are tough. It was a battle of attrition, but it was a really good game. These are the kind of games you want to be involved in.”

The win guarantees Chartiers Valley (9-0, 12-3) a share of the Section 3-4A championship, although West Mifflin (8-1, 14-2) can earn a share of the section crown with a win in the rematch, which is scheduled for Tuesday at Chartiers Valley but will likely be played later in the week due to the weather.

The Colts jumped out to a first inning lead off West Mifflin senior Pierson Buck when senior Charlie Caputo doubled home senior Kyle Witte, who led off the game with a single.

The Titans got the equalizer in the third inning after a two-out walk to junior Zane Griffaton by Colts senior pitcher Joey Vanzin. With Griffaton running, senior Bert Kovalsky doubled down the left field line to tie the game, 1-1.

Both starting pitchers were exceptional but did not factor in the decision.

Buck pitched five innings for West Mifflin, allowing one run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts, while Vanzin for Chartiers Valley pitched 5⅓ innings, giving up one run, four hits and one walk while striking out seven.

“Joe is lights out. He’s tough to handle no matter who’s up at the plate,” Cairns said. “They tried to get him out of rhythm. They wanted to run his pitch count up, so they squared around and took strikes. We knew if we poured first-pitch strikes, we’d be OK.”

Chartiers Valley thought it had taken the lead in the top of the eventh inning when pinch-runner Nick Costantino tried to score from third base on a wild pitch, but West Mifflin junior catcher Corey Kuszaj made a great throw to Titans pitcher freshman Caden Wills, whose snap tag at the plate was in time, and the game went to extra innings.

While there may have been a question about the bang-bang play at the plate, there was no doubt when Ferrari came to the plate in the eight and ripped a shot over the right field fence for the go-ahead run.

“My approach was to wait for the first fastball I see and go hacking,” Ferrai said. “He threw it right in my wheelhouse and I banged it. I knew it was gone going off the bat.”

West Mifflin, known for being aggressive, made things interesting in the bottom of the eighth inning when Griffaton led off with a walk, stole second base and went to third when Kovalsky reached on a sacrifice bunt and an error on the Chartiers Valley first baseman.

After a stolen base put Titans at second and third with no outs, Cairns brought his infield in as senior Brenden Cruz struck out Kuszaj. Wills then grounded to shortstop as the runner held, and sophomore Jayvon Thompson hit a line shot to left field, but right at Kyle Witte for the final out.

“Games like that come down to taking advantage of moments that can win you the game,” West Mifflin coach Jeff Kuzma said. “Both teams fought for eight innings, having chances to take that advantage. They had one more moment then us. Hats off to them and their coaches.”

While West Mifflin is coming off a district championship, the Titans are much younger than Chartiers Valley, starting eight underclassmen.

The Colts have the experience with 10 seniors in their starting lineup. Because of that, they have an all-in mentality in 2023.

“We want to win the section, win the WPIAL and win the states,” Ferrari said. “This is our last season together, and we want to go all out and we have the talent to do it.”

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