Middle of lineup lifts West Allegheny past Shaler in section showdown

Monday, April 26, 2021 | 10:20 PM

Luke Lambert hit a two-run homer, and Devan Zirwas broke a 2-2 tie with a sixth-inning triple then scored what proved to be the game-winning run as West Allegheny held on to defeat host Shaler, 5-4, Monday afternoon.

The victory puts the Indians in sole possession of first place in Section 3-5A, one game ahead of Shaler and South Fayette.

“Shaler’s a great team, a well-coached team with good players,” West Allegheny coach Bryan Cornell said. “It was a pretty good game.”

The kind of game you expect when two of the top teams in the classification square off. West Allegheny was No. 2 and Shaler No. 5 in the latest HSSN 5A baseball rankings.

The visiting Indians started off with a bang. After a two-out single by junior Gavin Miller, Pitt recruit Luke Lambert deposited a Alec Englemore fastball into the trees at the top of the hill well beyond the left-field fence at Matulevic Field for a quick 2-0 West A lead.

“Luke hit it well, and that’s his fifth one of the year,” Cornell said. “He’s doing it game in and game out.”

Shaler pulled to within one run in the second inning on a perfectly executed double steal that plated senior Tre Junker.

The Titans evened the score with a little two-out magic of their own. Junior Bryan Rincon doubled down the left-field line and scored on a bloop single to right field by senior Braeden Campbell.

Englemore for Shaler and Miller for West Allegheny found a groove as the score remained tied at 2-2 through five innings.

Both offenses came to life in the sixth inning.

With two runners on and two out, Zirwas, a Virginia Commonwealth recruit, drove a fastball to the deepest part of the park as it hit off the top of the fence in center. Joe Pustover and Miller scored on a two-run triple.

“The previous two at-bats, I got down in the count,” Zirwas said. “What was similar with both of them is that they gave me a high fastball at 0-2, so I knew it was coming. I felt like I got a good piece, and I was hoping it would get out honestly, but it ended up working out.”

The middle of the order had four hits, four runs scored and four RBIs for the Indians.

“That’s a 3-4-5 with Miller and Lambert and Zirwas coming at you that’s pretty tough,” Cornell said. “We just tell them one of you guys has to step up game in and game out, and they have done that with different guys in different opportunities.”

Shaler answered in the bottom of the sixth.

Walks to Campbell and Junker set the stage for freshman Brady McGuire, who went the other way and doubled down the left-field line to score Campbell. When the cutoff throw got away for the game’s only error, Junker also scored to pull the Titans to within one run.

Englemore shot a ball into the gap in deep right-center, but the Indians’ Adam Crawford tracked it down for the final out.

In the seventh inning, senior Aiden Williams drew a leadoff walk and his courtesy runner, Tyler Rowell, made it to third base, but Miller got Rincon to fly out to left field to end a game with a playoff feel.

“I bet if you talk to Gavin today, he would say he didn’t have his best stuff,” Cornell said. “But that’s what he does. He’s an ultra-competitor, and he goes out there and makes the pitches when he needs to. He relied on his defense (Monday), and we made some great plays in the outfield.”

Miller allowed only five hits but walked four and struck out one in allowing three earned runs.

West Allegheny can take control of the section if it can beat Shaler at home Tuesday.

“That’s what we said coming into this series,” Cornell said. “Do we want a share of the section title or do we want to win it outright? We needed to win two games. I would assume it going to be a good battle (Tuesday) as well.”

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