Laurel Highlands upsets No. 2 Franklin Regional in WPIAL semifinals

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | 8:59 PM

If Scott DeBerry thought he might be dreaming Wednesday afternoon, the ice-water bath that drenched the Laurel Highlands baseball coach surely felt real following the Mustangs’ 4-1 upset of Franklin Regional in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals at West Mifflin.

Indeed, DeBerry wasn’t dreaming.

“I think I needed that,” he muttered before taking a moment to shake off some of the water that dripped from his wet uniform.

Caleb Scott, the No. 9 hitter in the Laurel Highlands lineup, hit a two-run single as part of a three-run fifth and lefthander Justin Brestensky, making his first start on the mound in a high school playoff game, pitched 6 23 effective innings to carry the sixth-seeded Mustangs (14-6).

The loss ended a 14-game winning streak by No. 2 Franklin Regional (17-2), which won the Section 2 regular-season championship.

Laurel Highlands will play in its first WPIAL championship game since 1983, meeting No. 5 Shaler (14-7) next Wednesday at Wild Things Park in Washington. The Titans defeated No. 8 Mars, 8-2, in the other semifinal Wednesday.

“It’s funny how it creeps up on you when you don’t expect it,” said DeBerry, whose Mustangs had reached the quarterfinals twice in the previous three years, including last season, when they lost to Mars, 6-2, on the same West Mifflin field.

“Some of the teams in the past, you thought they were ready for it,” he said — Laurel Highlands has never won a WPIAL title. “And then, you get a brand-new team and struggle in and out during the season. I guess they just put it together at the right time.”

Franklin Regional will play in a consolation-round game against No. 8 Mars (12-9) next week with a PIAA playoff berth up for grabs.

“We don’t want to focus on this game,” Franklin Regional coach Bobby Saddler said, “but we want to look in the mirror and say, ‘What can we do differently to prepare for the next game?’ We only have two losses, so it’s not a major overhaul, just simple minor tweaks, and we’ll come back ready to play.”

Brestensky overcame a shaky start that saw him pitch out of a bases-loaded jam in the second, when Franklin Regional scored its only run on a wild pitch. The Panthers didn’t have a hit in the inning but took advantage of Nate Zimcosky’s fielding error, a hit batsman and a walk to set up the run.

“He did a great job mixing pitches all day and putting pitches where he wanted to,” Saddler said.

The junior yielded four hits, walked four, hit a batter and struck out two in 623 innings before being relieved by righthander Dylan Bohnna, who entered with the bases empty in the bottom of the seventh and walked Tom Kegerreis before enticing Louie Kegerreis to pop out to second to end the game.

DeBerry said he just wanted a change of pace with the heart of the Franklin Regional lineup on deck.

“Justin kept them off balance, but you never know,” DeBerry said. “You don’t know if changing from left to right or from right to left will work. Some teams hit one side better than the other. It was just a hunch.”

Brestensky didn’t seem to mind that he didn’t complete the game, instead reveling with his teammates, who mobbed him when he walked off the field for the final time.

“The first few innings, I got pretty frustrated with myself,” Brestensky said. “Once I started calming down, I got into a groove and started consistently throwing strikes.

“I just know I’ve got to get the ball down the middle of the plate and put my trust in my fielders to make the plays.”

Franklin Regional right-hander Mike Klingensmith mowed down the first 12 batters to carry a perfect game into the fifth inning.

Garrett Myers led off the fifth with an infield single for Laurel Highlands’ first baserunner. After Alex Gesk sacrificed Myers to second, Brestensky singled to put runners at first and third, then stole second before Zimcosky singled home Myers to tie the score.

One out later, Scott laced a two-out single to drive home Brestensky and Zimcosky and give Laurel Highlands a 3-1 lead.

“It was a good baseball game. It’s what you hope for in the WPIAL semifinals,” Saddler said. “You expect to have a tight game, and the team that gets those hits in key situations is going to come out on top. They were able to drive in a couple of guys when they got into scoring position.”

Laurel Highlands added a run on Tyler Becker’s RBI single in the seventh against Klingensmith, who pitched a complete game while giving up six hits, striking out five and walking none.

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