PIAA Class 3A baseball championship preview: Avonworth vs. Neumann-Goretti

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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | 3:09 AM


The PIAA baseball championships return Thursday and Friday to Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, where the games have been held since 2011.

The WPIAL is sending three teams to Happy Valley this season, including Avonworth in the Class 3A final. The Antelopes are trying to help the WPIAL win back-to-back titles in 3A, joining 2023 champion Riverside.

Here is a look at this year’s matchup.

PIAA Class 3A baseball championship

Avonworth (18-9) vs. Neumann-Goretti (20-6)

1:30 p.m. Friday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, Penn State

District seeds

Avonworth was the No. 7 seed in the WPIAL playoffs and qualified for states as the district champion. Second-seeded Neumann-Goretti lost to La Salle, 4-1, in the finals of the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs, a 10-team bracket that included all classifications. Neumann-Goretti later defeated Philadelphia public school Masterman, 13-2, to earn District 12’s top qualifying seed for the PIAA playoffs.

On the air

Pennsylvania Cable Network’s online streaming service, PCN Select

Coaches

Jeff Bywalski, Avonworth; Nick Nardini, Neumann-Goretti

Players to watch

Brandon Sapolsky, Avonworth; Jayce Park, Neumann-Goretti

Path to Penn State

Avonworth defeated District 6 runner-up Central Martinsburg, 6-1, in the first round; District 10 champion Fairview, 5-4 in nine innings, in the quarterfinals; and District 9 champion Punxsutawney, 5-3, in the semifinals.

Neumann-Goretti defeated District 11 runner-up Salisbury, 4-0, in the first round; District 3 champion Camp Hill, 5-2, in the quarterfinals; and District 3 runner-up Trinity, 11-1, in the semifinals.

Championship factoids

Avonworth

• This is Avonworth’s first appearance in the state baseball finals.

• The Antelopes have won three playoff games in extra innings. In the WPIAL playoffs, they defeated Burrell, 2-1 in eight innings, in the semifinals; and Riverside, 4-3 in 14 innings, in the finals. They needed nine innings to defeat Fairview, 5-4, in the PIAA quarterfinals.

• Five players are batting better than .290, led by senior shortstop Brandon Sapolsky and sophomore third baseman Jack Dolan, who are tied with .378 averages.

• Sapolsky, the leadoff batter, has scored a team-high 24 runs, and senior Hunter Blackson has 21.

• Sophomore second baseman Cooper Scharding is batting .342 with a team-best 20 RBIs.

• Avonworth used four different pitchers in its past two games. Senior Aidan Tinker started the quarterfinal and was relieved by sophomore Carson Franc. Scharding started the semifinal and senior Jacob Hanny finished the game.

• Scharding has thrown a team-high 54⅔ innings. He has a 1.41 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 15 walks. Tinker, who has pitched 49⅔ innings, has a 1.41 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 11 walks.

•This is Jeff Bywalski’s second season as coach. He was a junior varsity coach at South Park when the Eagles reached the state finals in 2017.

Neumann-Goretti

• Neumann-Goretti is making its fourth appearance in the PIAA baseball finals. The Eagles won consecutive Class 2A state titles in 2016-17. They were runners-up in 2015.

• Philadelphia teams haven’t dominated the state baseball playoffs quite like they have in basketball. Combined, District 12 teams have won seven baseball titles.

• Senior pitcher Jayce Park is an Old Dominion recruit. The right-hander is 7-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 60⅓ innings. He has walked only 15.

• The 6-foot, 180-pound Park was named pitcher of the year in the Philadelphia Catholic League. He threw six innings in the PIAA quarterfinals, allowing one run while striking out eight.

• Senior Christian Cerone, a Millersville recruit, leads the team in batting (.433) and RBIs (20) and ranks third in runs with 22. Cerone had three hits and two RBIs in the team’s semifinal win.

• Five players are batting .290 or better. Senior Andrew Dankanich has a .378 average with 25 runs and 18 RBIs. Senior Evan McCoach has also scored 25 runs and has a .290 average.

• The team’s second pitcher, senior Santino Pharma, is 7-1 with a 1.84 ERA. The left-hander has struck out 32 and walked 31 in 49⅓ innings.

PIAA Class 3A history lesson

• Riverside blanked Camp Hill from District 3 to cap off a perfect season with a victory in the 2023 PIAA Class 3A title game, 4-0.

•Mount Union from District 6 was the PIAA Class 3A champion five years ago in 2019.

•Pope John Paul II defeated Harriton in an all-District 1 Class 3A state final 10 years ago in 2014.

•Abington Heights from District 2 edged Chartiers Valley for state gold 15 years ago, 3-2, in the 2009 PIAA 3A title game.

•Chambersburg from District 3 knocked off Peters Township 20 years ago to win state 3A gold in 2004, 12-5.

•Chambersburg again 25 years ago knocked off Shaler, 4-3, to win the 1999 3A state championship.

•District 1 Plymouth-Whitemarsh edged North Allegheny 30 years ago to win the PIAA 3A crown, 5-4.

•Reading from District 3 was the state champion 40 years ago, beating Beaver in the 1984 3A finals, 3-1.

•In the first PIAA Class 3A championship game 45 years ago, State College from District 6 defeated D03 Chambersburg, 2-1, to win 1979 state gold.

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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