Mt. Lebanon celebrates Senior Week with win over Cedar Cliff, trip to state finals

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Tuesday, June 13, 2023 | 10:32 PM


Many of Tanner Donati’s classmates traveled to Ocean City, Md., to celebrate their recent high school graduation with a week of sand and sun.

He traded that vacation for a trip to Penn State.

“It’s been a little tough seeing your friends at the beach,” Donati said. “But if you play baseball, you want to win a state title. So that’s all that matters.”

Mt. Lebanon’s four senior starters — Donati, Tyler Smith, Matthew Delvaux and Brock Stacy — created their own celebration Tuesday by combining for eight hits, five runs and six RBIs to defeat District 3 champion Cedar Cliff, 7-2, in a PIAA Class 6A semifinal at Mt. Aloysius.

The win takes the Blue Devils to Penn State for their first state finals appearance in 25 years. WPIAL champion Mt. Lebanon (16-10) faces Philadelphia’s Father Judge (24-2) in the PIAA finals at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Medlar Field.

The beach vacation has to wait.

“We’ll focus on this right now,” Donati said.

The baseball team instead rode a bus to Cambria County on Tuesday for the second day in a row for a rain-delayed semifinal. There were no waves in sight, except maybe in puddles Monday, but the seniors insisted this was where they always wanted to be.

“We have a very tight-knit group and we all want to win,” Smith said. “When we’re this close to a state championship, there’s nothing else that we’re thinking about. There’s nowhere else we’d rather be.”

The last time Mt. Lebanon won a state championship was 1998. The Blue Devils were coached by Patt McCloskey’s father, Ed, and won the 3A title — which was the largest classification at the time.

The team hasn’t been back since.

“I owe everything I have in baseball to him and the example he set for me,” McCloskey said of his father, who still attends games. “If we could win this for him, it would mean a lot.”

That requires three more days of baseball.

This is already a tough time of year for seniors to stay focused, said McCloskey, pointing out that graduation parties and summer vacations create a cloud of distractions. But he praised this group of seniors as the most determined he’s coached in his 19 seasons.

“It’s very difficult to stay focused when all of your friends are at the beach,” McCloskey said. “That’s why I’m so happy for everyone.”

Mt. Lebanon’s first three batters are seniors Donati, Smith and Delvaux, and the team also used two of them on the mound Tuesday. Delvaux, a senior right-hander, held Cedar Cliff scoreless into the sixth inning as the Blue Devils built a 7-0 lead. When senior lefty Smith finished off Tuesday’s win with three consecutive strikeouts, the emotion had McCloskey fighting back tears.

“When you’ve got those three at the top of the order, you’re very fortunate,” McCloskey said. “I’m very fortunate as a coach. I don’t know if we’ll ever have another group like this. So I’m just going to enjoy the next couple of days.”

Stacy, a senior outfielder who bats sixth, also went 2 for 3 and broke the game open with a two-run single in the fifth. The Blue Devils scored two runs in the first inning, four in the fifth and one in the sixth.

Donati, a Delaware recruit, went 2 for 4 with a triple, an RBI and two runs scored. Smith, an Auburn recruit, was 2 for 3 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored.

Delvaux, a Mercyhurst recruit, went 2 for 3 with an RBI and contributed a run when his courtesy runner scored. He also pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs on four hits, with two walks and four strikeouts. In one dominant stretch, Delvaux retired 12 in a row.

Smith relieved him in the seventh and struck out the side.

The previous 24 hours tested the team’s focus. Monday’s game was canceled after they’d already reached the field, so the Blue Devils went home and came back Tuesday.

They insisted it wasn’t a big deal.

“Every year, you run into crazy things,” McCloskey said. “When we won a WPIAL championship in 1993, when I was a player, it might’ve been 50 degrees up at Pullman Park. When we won it last year, it was 95 degrees.

“All kinds of things happen with the weather.”

McCloskey said the team had “crazy energy” when they met at the school Tuesday for 9 a.m. batting practice, and he described the pregame workouts at Mt. Aloysius as the best of the year.

“That’s senior leadership right there,” he said. “We hit great in the morning. We hit great here. We took a great pregame. That’s the seniors being determined to win.”

That hot hitting carried over to the game. Donati singled, Smith doubled and Delvaux hit an RBI single as Mt. Lebanon opened with three consecutive hits against Cedar Cliff starter Luke Minium. Nolan Smith, a junior, added a run-scoring sacrifice fly to lead 2-0.

The three seniors all reached base again in the fifth inning when Lebo scored four more runs. After a leadoff single by junior Jake Tinnemeyer, Donati tripled followed by singles from Tyler Smith and Delvaux. Minium was chased from the mound when five of the first six batters reached base in the inning.

Stacy followed with a two-run single off reliever Jordan Esser to lead 6-0.

Mt. Lebanon later tacked on another run when Tinnemeyer drew a leadoff walk in the sixth and scored on a Cedar Cliff fielding error.

This postseason run seemed improbable two months ago when the Blue Devils started their season 0-8. In hindsight, McCloskey said those early stumbles helped cement this late-season success.

“Those kids had to hear a lot from the outside world,” he said. “It makes you a little more determined to finish it. I’m not saying I want to start 0-8 next year, but it definitely had an impact on them.”

They’re now one of the hotter teams in the state, winning 16 of 18 games.

“We hit pretty much rock bottom, but we stuck with it,” Donati said. “I love playing with these guys. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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