Pinch hitter comes through in extra innings to send North Allegheny past Pine-Richland in WPIAL semifinals

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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | 1:00 AM


North Allegheny’s Michael Hershberger is a hitter always eager for opportunities, said his coach, who called on the junior in a big spot Tuesday night.

In the eighth inning of a tied semifinal, Hershberger delivered a pinch hit two-run single that let North Allegheny complete its late rally and defeat rival Pine-Richland, 5-4, in the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs. His line drive to left field was the hit the Tigers needed to reach the WPIAL finals for the second year in a row.

“I stepped back, kind of took a breath and blocked out all of the noise,” said Hershberger, the backup catcher, who was battling with Pine-Richland reliever Tyler Vogel under the lights at Boyce Mayview Park.

He eventually turned on an inside pitch.

“I know what Michael can do,” said NA coach Andrew Heck, who saw his Tigers rally from an early 3-1 deficit to win in extra innings.

The hit was Hershberger’s 11th in 33 at-bats.

“He’s a fastball guy,” Heck said. “He likes to hunt the fastball, puts good at-bats together and barrels the baseball. I thought that would be a really good matchup right there.”

Up next is a rematch of last year’s WPIAL championship game. No. 3 seed North Allegheny (16-6) will face No. 1 Mt. Lebanon (18-4) in the finals May 28 or 29 at Wild Things Park in Washington.

A year ago, Mt. Lebanon won, 4-0. North Allegheny’s batters were held hitless in that loss.

“This is definitely the matchup we wanted – 100% — but we’re not naïve,” Heck said. “We know what’s in front of us, and we’re going to find a way to be prepared.”

No. 2 seed Pine-Richland (17-5) responded to Hershberger’s go-ahead hit with an RBI single by Sam Heckert in the bottom of the eighth. But North Allegheny reliever Cole Suba then stranded two Rams on base with a game-ending strikeout.

An inning earlier, Pine-Richland was one out away from earning a trip to the finals before NA’s Nico Varlotta hit a tying RBI single that forced extra innings. The Tigers had loaded the bases with an infield single and two bunts.

“It was another battle between two good teams,” Pine-Richland coach Kurt Wolfe said. “They made plays at the end. They got bunts down when they needed to. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”

North Allegheny’s Miles Pealer had two hits, reached base three times and scored three runs. NA catcher Andrew Dixon had two RBIs and his courtesy runner, Carter Boehm, scored the tying run.

Along with driving in Boehm for a 3-3 tie, Varlotta started on the mound and pitched six innings. His outing started rough but got stronger.

The junior allowed three runs on three hits in the first two innings, yet held Pine-Richland scoreless and hitless over his last four innings. He left trailing 3-2, and Suba pitched the final two innings in relief for the win.

Varlotta struck out six.

“Nico settled in and did an unbelievable job for us,” Heck said. “He was electric.”

In section play, Pine-Richland won two out of three games against North Allegheny in the regular season. None was decided by more than two runs.

“We enjoy those type of games,” Wolfe said. “We want those type of games because we feel confident we’re going to come out and win those games. Unfortunately, today wasn’t one of those days.”

Pine-Richland starter Reece Rupert allowed two runs on five hits while pitching into the fourth inning. Vogel handled five innings in relief, holding North Allegheny to three runs on six hits and one walk. They combined to strike out 10 and walk three.

Trailing by a run the seventh, North Allegheny decided to play small ball once Dixon hit a leadoff single. J.J. Mancuso laid a sacrifice bunt, but Pine-Richland’s attempt to get the lead runner failed.

Matt Parraguirre then reached on a well-placed bunt single to load the bases. With two outs, Varlotta dropped the tying hit in right field.

In the eighth, Pealer drew a leadoff walk and Augie Maslo followed with a sacrifice bunt. Pine-Richland again failed to get the lead runner. A flyout by Dixon moved both runners into scoring position, setting up Hershberger for his heroics.

“I didn’t really know how to react,” Hershberger said. “I was in shock.”

Pine-Richland was trying to reach the WPIAL finals for the first time since winning the title in 2019.

The Rams took a 1-0 lead in the first inning without a hit. Anthony Mengine drew a leadoff walk, stole second, advanced on a groundout and scored on a passed ball.

North Allegheny answered in the second when Pealer doubled and scored on Dixon’s sacrifice fly for a 1-1 tie.

Pine-Richland retook the lead later in the second after starting the inning with three straight hits. Tanner Cunningham singled, Tommy Zimmerman doubled and Anthony Annichine followed with an RBI single.

Mengine drove in another run with an infield grounder to lead 3-1.

In the fourth, North Allegheny narrowed the Rams’ lead to 3-2 with an RBI double by Dixon that scored Pealer.

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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