MSA Sports Countdown – Top 25 WPIAL Stories From 2014 – 12/29/2014

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Monday, December 29, 2014 | 8:07 PM


It has become a tradition like no other…at least during the holidays here at MSA Sports. It’s time to look back at another high school sports year with the top stories from around the WPIAL in 2014. We continue our countdown with the five stories that ended up #20 through #16.

{Left:  Members of the Sabers girls volleyball team are paraded around Ford City after winning the schools first ever WPIAL girls volleyball championship in the schools final year.}

#20 – NA Tigers:  Kings of the Pool

For the third straight year and for the fifth time in six years, North Allegheny can tell a golden ‘tail’ about the WPIAL Swimming Championships. The Tigers girls teams cruised to their sixth straight WPIAL team swimming championship back in late February, while the boys team edged Upper St. Clair to capture a third straight title and the teams eighth in the last nine years.

North Allegheny under first year head coach and long time assistant Patrick Wensel can not be stopped in AAA swimming. In girls it was over before it started in the second day of competition They easily defeated Mount Lebanon by 278 points. For the boys it wasn’t decided till late in the session. They would win with point on the last boys solo event, the Breaststroke as junior Casey Melzer’s gold medal sealed the deal.

There were a few new WPIAL records set by NA swimmers as well. In the Girls 100 yard freestyle, North Allegheny’s Katie Ford set a new record with a 50.63. Jacquelyn Du of North Allegheny set a new record in the girls 100 yard back stroke with a 54.20 beating her record she set last year. Finally in the Girls 400 yard freestyle relay North Allegheny set a new record with a 3:26.41 beating last years record.

#19 – NA Tigers:  Kings of the Court

For an unprecedented eighth year in a row, the North Allegheny Tigers won the WPIAL Class AAA championship in boys volleyball.

The Tigers used a furious rally in game one to build momentum and propel them to a 3-0 victory over Norwin for the Class AAA crown in May by scores of 25-23, 25-11 and 25-21.

Senior Mitch Higgins set the tone for a big night for himself with six kills, two blocks and an ace in the opening game alone. Classmate Brendan Brown added four kills and two blocks to aid the comeback.

Norwin jumped out quickly in the first set, scoring the game’s opening four points and building a seven-point advantage. With the score at 16-9, however, North Allegheny began chipping away at the Knights’ lead. By late in the set, the Tigers had stormed all the way back to tie the score at 22. Then, with the score knotted at 23, a block by senior David Haus and a Norwin miscue gave North Allegheny the come-from-behind victory.

Carrying all of the momentum on their side, the Tigers flexed their muscles in game two. With the score still tight at 7-5, North Allegheny embarked on a 12-2 run that created separation and then put the Knights away. Haus paced the Tigers in the second set, tallying five kills and five digs.

Game three proved to be a back-and-forth affair, as neither team managed to gain an edge of more than three points until the last point of the tournament. After a kill by Norwin’s Aaron Shaffer moved the score to 22-21 in favor of the Tigers, North Allegheny used two Brown kills and an unforced error by the Knights to rattle off three straight points and secure yet another championship.

Brown tacked on another five kills and three blocks in the third set, bringing his totals to 11 and seven, respectively, on the night. Higgins finished with a team-high 15 kills to go along with three blocks, two aces and a dig. Haus turned in another solid all-around performance with nine kills, eight digs and two blocks. Senior setter Antonios Balouris once again passed well throughout the contest, registering 39 assists. He also added three blocks and a kill. As he typically does, junior defensive specialist Ethan DeRubbo led North Allegheny in digs with 12.

The Tigers advanced to the PIAA Class AAA championship match in the state playoffs, but lost in three games to Central York.

#18 – Tribal Uprising on The Pitch

Peters Township turned the same trick they did last season and treated their fans to a ninth WPIAL championship in soccer on Halloween night at Highmark Stadium.The Indians playing in a constant cold. light rain built a 3-0 against their conference rival Upper Saint Clair and eventually won going away 5-1.

The Indians entered the game as the three seed against the top-seeded Panthers. USC, just as they had done last year entering the championship tilt had beaten Peters Township twice during the regular season.

Peters though, just as they did last year though proved winning the last game trumps winning the first two.

The Indians led at the half 2-0 thanks to a pair of Nicco Mastrangelo goals. The first coming with 17:23 to play in the half off a corner kick to the near post the Mastrangelo headed between the post and USC keeper Kenny Rapko. then just less than three minute later Nicco took a feed from his brother Mario and blasted a shot in traffic from eight yards out into the back of the net for the halftime score.

Jonathan Sion would push the lead to 3-0 off  Mario Mastrangelo dazzling tassist on the right wing in the fifteenth minute of the second half for a 3-0 lead. At that point the matter seemed pretty much decided as Peters had only allowed four goals all season long coming into the championship game.

USC would get on the board as Shayne Sibley scored his 19th goal of the season with 19:51 to play to make it  a 3-1 game but Peters was too strong on this night Matt Massucci converted a penalty kick with 15:20 to play after USC was called for a foul in the box to make it 4-1 and Mario Mastrangelo would add to his two assist night with his 18th goal of the year with USC pressing the action and 7:35 to play in the game.

From there the powerful Peters defense took control and the celebration was on again for Indians fans as the Panthers tasted defeat for the first time.

Another golden soccer ball headed to the Peters Township High School trophy case two weeks later after the Indians won the PIAA Class AAA state title Saturday 2-1 at Hersheypark Stadium. The state title was the fourth for the Indians, which also won in 1988, 1989 and 2007.

#17 – A Golden Goodbye

The Ford City Sabers took home the AA Girls Volleyball Championship with a dramatic win in five sets over Thomas Jefferson in October.  The victory was hard fought as both teams battled to the end and gave it their all.  For Ford City, it was their first WPIAL girls volleyball championship in school history.  Remarkably, it comes in the last year of Ford City’s WPIAL existence.  Next year the school is set to merge with Kittanning.  Head coach Andrea Lasher was ecstatic as she saw her team win the final set 15-13 to seal the deal and hand TJ it’s first loss.

Thomas Jefferson started out hot winning the first set 25-16 on the strength of some big time hits by Rachel Stover.  When the match was over, Rachel had recorded a total of 20 kills on the day.  Despite the kills, Ford City was able to stick their plan and maintain the “team” mentality in order to win.  They were severely undersized in comparison to their opponent, yet that did not seem to faze them.  Justyne Lasher was spectacular for the Sabres.  On top of having 12 kills on the day, she was all over the court and stepped up as the team’s leader.  Her younger sister Kenzie was excellent as well.  The fifteen year old freshman did not let the big stage get to her. The libero never came out of the game and made numerous digs on powerful spikes from TJ.

TJ took set three 25-19 and looked to be close to obtaining the title.  Ford City did not see that as the case though.  The smaller squad had bigger heart and fought back to win sets four and five.  Their backs were against the wall from the start of the match.  The #4 seed had to face an unbeaten #2 seed in TJ, but had already overcome #1 Freeport in the semifinals and their confidence carried over into the championship match.

The Sabers season ended in their next match when they were stunned by Corry 3-2 in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA state playoffs.

#16 – Sweet Sixteen

16-seeds are not supposed to be still playing in late May. Teams with overall records under .500 are only supposed to see the district championship game if they purchase a ticket. Don’t tell any of that to Seneca Valley.  The Raiders bucked all odds by beating Baldwin 5-2 in late May to win the schools third WPIAL Quad-A baseball title in the last four years.

After barely making the playoffs as they finished tied for third place in Section 3, the Raiders became the first team to qualify for a fourth straight district baseball championship game with upset victories over top-seed Hempfield, Shaler and Pine-Richland.

It didn’t look like the magical postseason run for Seneca Valley would produce another gold crown early in the title game as the Baldwin bashers connected early and often. Nick Bernick lined a single to second. He was forced at second on a ground ball to Raiders shortstop Alex Hajduk, but the throw to first bounced away and allowed Morgan Schmitt to reach second. After Tom McCarthy was hit by a pitch, Alex Pantuso and Chris Eisel connected on back-to-back RBI singles to make it 2-0 Highlanders. Dylan Finocchi was then hit by a pitch to load the bases, but senior Connor Coward, who missed the regular season with a back injury but returned to go 2-0 in the postseason, struck out Jordan Gitzen and Tony Martinez to keep it a two run deficit.

An inning later, Seneca Valley cut the lead in half when with two on and two out, the Raiders #9 hitter, Hajduk singled home Matt Wagner to make it 2-1.

Baldwin senior starting pitcher Alex Pantuso struggled through four innings but was able to escape trouble more times than not. His luck ran out though in the fifth inning.

It started for the Raiders with a mammoth home run over the left center field fence by Matt Rafferty to tie the game at 2-2. Vince Augustine followed with a triple to the fence in right center field and Coward helped himself with an RBI single as the Raiders took their first lead of the game. Baldwin catcher Zach Murray had Coward picked off first base, but a botched run down throw allowed Coward to reach second. That was huge because two outs later when the inning should have been over, John Davis singled home Coward to make it 4-2. Davis then scored on a John Harper base hit to finish off Pantuso and the scoring for the night.

Coward was brilliant after the first inning. Baldwin, which had averaged nearly 9 runs a game in three previous playoff victories, had only three base runners against the Raiders senior after the first inning. Coward, the losing pitcher in last years title game, allowed 2 runs on 6 hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts.

Baldwin does not win their first ever WPIAL baseball title while despite four WPIAL playoff wins, Seneca Valley was still under .500 at 10-11 overall when they began the PIAA playoffs. they won two more games before falling to Conestoga in the state Semifinals to finish a roller coaster season at 12-12.

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