North Catholic surges past Indiana to claim WPIAL Class 4A baseball crown

Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | 7:14 PM

After hitting a one-out triple in the second inning, North Catholic’s Josef Safar flexed his right bicep and pointed at it while staring at his teammates in the dugout.

Safar said it was a light-hearted moment and that he was just having fun, but it also symbolized the power to come for the Trojans.

After falling behind by four runs early, the sixth-seeded Trojans’ bats woke up in a big way in the middle innings as they rallied past No. 9 Indiana, 7-5, in the WPIAL Class 4A final Wednesday at Wild Things Park in Washington.

“Man, I could not feel any better,” Safar said moments after receiving his gold medal. “I’m in a great mood.”

North Catholic (17-4) earned its fifth WPIAL baseball title and first since 2018 with the win. The Trojans swept Indiana (13-10) during Section 4-4A play in the regular season and completed the hat trick in comeback fashion.

Indiana led 5-1 after three innings, but Logan Eifler got the North Catholic rally started by plating two runs in the fourth on a one-out single that was misplayed on the hop by right fielder Mark Collinger.

Tommy Koroly tripled to lead off the fifth and was brought in by an RBI single by Ryan Shantz. Owen Beatrice singled in Shantz, which tied the game. Safar ripped a double to center field, which scored Beatrice and gave the Trojans the lead.

North Catholic ended up with four of its seven hits in the fifth after chasing Indiana starter and Texas Tech recruit Greg Minnick.

“When you’re playing, you can feel the energy come and go,” Safar said. “When you start to stack up hits like that, it’s an awesome feeling. These guys are awesome. I love our senior leaders. They want to win so bad.”

Safar had the only multi-hit game for North Catholic. Minnick showed his plus-velocity, pumping in fastballs in the mid-90s. He struck out eight but had some control issues, walking five over four-plus innings.

“When a pitcher has velocity like that and it’s going to be there consistently, that’s what you have to sit on,” Safar said. “If you aren’t sitting on that, you’re going to be late and you’re never going to able to hit it. Curveball and slider you can adjust to. That was my approach. Thankfully for me, when he threw me a curveball or slider, it wasn’t in the zone. That worked out in my favor pretty well.”

Ben Ryan relieved Minnick and took the loss, allowing three runs in one-third of an inning.

Prior to the rally, things started well for Indiana, which was seeking its first WPIAL baseball title.

Ryan and Charlie Manzi hit home runs in the third inning, which gave Indiana a 5-1 lead.

Ryan’s homer was crushed over the Washington Wild Things sign in left field. Manzi’s was a two-run shot that also went to left field.

Hunter Martin had an RBI single in the top of the first for Indiana’s first run. Martin hit the ball to right field and Safar made a diving effort to catch the ball, but came up short. Safar’s throw home was up the line and Trevor Smith scored from first base.

The Indians picked up another run in the second on another two-out base hit. Tim Birch singled to center field, which scored Manzi from second base.

After giving up five runs over two innings, Trojans starter Tommy Schafale settled in and pitched a complete game. He retired 12 of the last 15 batters he faced.

“In my two years as a coach at North Catholic, every time I’ve given the ball to Tommy, he’s given it back to me with a ‘W,’” North Catholic coach Andy Przybylek said. “That’s dependability and reliability. He’s an awesome player.”

Indiana got the tying run to the plate after a one-out triple in the seventh, but Schafale got a groundout from Martin and a flyout by Andrew McGee to end the game.

Smith, Ryan, Manzi and Kadin Homer had multi-hit games for the Indians.

Both teams will continue their season in the state tournament starting Monday.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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