North Allegheny pins PIAA loss on tough Wilson lefty, not ‘WPIAL hangover’

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Monday, June 3, 2024 | 9:20 PM


North Allegheny coach Andrew Heck could’ve blamed his team’s state playoff loss on the dreaded WPIAL hangover, but instead credited the craftiness of a left-hander who threw a one-hitter.

Wilson pitcher Matt VanOstenbridge needed only 84 pitches to finish off an efficient 2-0 win over host North Allegheny in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A baseball playoffs Monday.

VanOstenbridge, a senior, is a Penn State recruit.

Heck said he’d talked with his players about the so-called hangover, where WPIAL champions can fall flat in the first round of states after an emotional high in the league finals. That hangover certainly could’ve played a part again Monday, but Heck thought there was more to this loss.

“I think a lot of it had to do with that kid here today,” Heck said of VanOstenbridge. “The thing that really impressed me with him was … I didn’t know he could move the ball around quite like he did.”

VanOstenbridge retired the first 10 batters he faced in order and North Allegheny’s only hit was a two-out single in the sixth inning. He’d entered with an ERA of 0.90 and improved his record to 7-1.

North Allegheny (17-7) wasn’t the only WPIAL champion to lose on Monday. Four of the six lost. But Heck said his players were well aware of the hangover, which has tripped up teams for years.

“I painted that picture very clear for our guys,” he said, recalling their talk from last week. “I always try to address the elephant in the room if there’s an elephant in the room, and I knew it would be a hangover. I told our guys, ‘Listen, we’re addressing this right here, right now.’”

Wilson (16-7), from West Lawn in Berks County, was the third-place qualifier from PIAA District 3.

North Allegheny starter Nico Varlotta held Wilson scoreless into the seventh inning, but the West Virginia-bound junior reached the PIAA’s 105-pitch limit with two on and one out. Wilson broke the scoreless tie with a two-out, bases-loaded single by Christo Hunsicker off reliever Charles Mau, a Penn State recruit.

That wasn’t the first time Wilson threatened to score. Varlotta had stranded six runners overall and twice escaped jams with inning-ending double plays, once with the bases loaded in the sixth.

“Offensively, we were sluggish for sure,” Heck said. “We needed to execute a little better running the bases. But I thought our defense was outstanding, and I thought our pitching was outstanding again today.”

Varlotta allowed five hits, two walks and struck out two. Mau, who faced four batters in relief, struck out two with one hit and one walk.

VanOstenbridge struck out six and walked one. He also hit consecutive batters in the fourth inning, which gave North Allegheny some hope when Varlotta also reached base on a throwing error to load the bases.

But VanOstenbridge escaped the jam with an inning-ending double play to stay scoreless.

“Our guy threw the game that he needed to throw and he’s been doing that all year for us,” Wilson coach Bill Underwood said. “We knew that if we could keep it close, a couple of hits, a walk, an error or a wild pitch, something was going to fall.”

This was the second game in a row that North Allegheny saw a Division I-bound left-hander on the mound. But VanOstenbridge is about three inches shorter than Mt. Lebanon ace David Shields and relied more on fastball-changeup combination.

“Totally different, I would say, than a Shields,” Heck said. “Not necessarily a power pitcher as much as he is crafty.”

Underwood said VanOstenbridge already had a no-hitter and one-hitter on his record this season. He wasn’t on the mound when Wilson lost to No. 1 seed Ephrata, 2-1, in the District 3 semifinals.

“He throws an unbelievable changeup,” Underwood said. “If you have a lot of righties up there and you throw a changeup like he throws it, it’s really hard to beat him.”

VanOstenbridge has a fastball that can reach the upper 80s, a changeup in the mid-70s and also mixed in a slider and curveball. With that combination, he didn’t allow a hit or a walk in the first four innings.

“The other big thing for me was he’s comfortable throwing any pitch in any count,” Heck said. “He didn’t miss very much.”

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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