North Hills clinches share of section title, sets up high-stakes rematch with West Allegheny

Monday, April 29, 2024 | 10:43 PM

Coming into the final two days of April, three teams had a shot at the WPIAL baseball Section 3-5A championship.

Following Monday’s action, one team has clinched a share of the title while another has a chance to share the section crown.

North Hills used two big innings to defeat West Allegheny in the first of back-to-back battles of the Indians, 7-2.

The win gives North Hills a share of the section title while West Allegheny can earn a share of the championship with a home win Tuesday in the rematch.

Defending section, district and state champion Shaler (5-4, 11-4) lost the first game of a section series with Mars (5-4, 7-5) on Monday and now drops out of the section title chase.

‘When we came here three years ago, one of the big things we kept preaching was your goal shouldn’t just be the playoffs,” North Hills coach Jon Pedrosky said. “You need to set your goals higher. We’ve been waiting three years for this, trying to get the belief of the kids, and now they are starting to believe.

“What this means is it’s a win that gets us to (Tuesday), which is as important if not bigger than today.”

If North Hills sweeps the section series, it is outright section champion. If West Allegheny bounces back at Donaldson Elementary School field, then the two Indians will share the section crown.

“We just didn’t play our best game today,” West Allegheny coach Bryan Cornell said. “We had opportunities but didn’t capitalize. They are a good team, but if you strike out as much as we did, we won’t win many more games.”

North Hills jumped out to an early lead with a big first inning off West Allegheny starter Mason Gass.

Senior Logan Hunt hit a bases-loaded single to score freshman Cooper Ravenstahl, senior Zach Kuhn hit a sacrifice fly to chase home junior Tristan Weimann from third base, and senior Connor Davis singled home Hunt to make it 3-0.

“We don’t have those big names that everybody may know, but they just produce,” Pedrosky said. “The kids just battle and put the ball in play.”

As Gass settled down after the first inning, his West Allegheny teammates started chipping away.

In the third inning, senior Brady Miller singled, stole second base and scored on a two-out single by senior Ben Kern.

In the top of the fifth inning, West Allegheny chased North Hills senior starting pitcher Jake Pollaro with a leadoff walk to junior Brock Cornell, who stole second and scored on a Miller double.

Connor Davis came in to get the final three outs of the inning, leaving the tying run at third base.

North Hills answered that punch with a haymaker of its own in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Hunt doubled home Pollaro, then scored on a Davis double. Sam Henc, who was hit by a pitch, came around to score on another sacrifice fly, this one by Zach Sprinkle, before Davis scored the fourth run of the inning on a wild pitch.

“Logan (Hunt) just barrels the baseball and he’s strong as an ox,” Pedrosky said of his senior third baseman, who was 3 for 3 on the afternoon. “The kid knew how big the game was, and he put one off the fence, 390 feet. He’s a focused kid who is having a hell of a year.”

West Allegheny did load the bases against Davis in the top of the seventh inning before Austin Bakowski came in for the save with a strikeout and a deep fly to left field by Gass with Pollaro reaching up to make the running grab short of the fence for the final out.

“Jake battled, but he didn’t have his best stuff,” Pedrosky said of his winning pitcher. “Connor came in and he’s been doing that all year, giving us solid innings as a starter and reliever. We’re working to get Austin’s pitch count up and put him in high-leverage situations.”

West Allegheny is alone in second place in the section at 6-3, falling to 10-3 overall.

“We will be ready to go (Tuesday),” Cornell said. “We will have a short memory and go play good, sound fundamental baseball and put the ball in play to apply pressure on them.”

North Hills improves to 7-2 atop the section and 9-3 overall.

“That’s a great team,” Pedrosky said of West Allegheny. “They were ranked No. 1 at one point, and we told our kids, it is not going to be easy (Tuesday). We’re going to get their best effort because they want a share of the section title. They got a veteran group over there with some Division I kids, so we’re going to get their best effort and hopefully they get our best effort as well.”

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