Riverview baseball savors unexpected run to WPIAL championship game

Thursday, June 3, 2021 | 2:41 PM

The Riverview Raiders hadn’t been to the WPIAL championship game in 20 years, and no one necessarily expected them to get there in 2021 either.

Before the coronavirus pandemic stole their 2020 season from them, the Raiders went 4-10 and allowed 10 or more runs in nine of their 10 losses in 2019. Coach Bill Gras was still looking to build his team up as he prepared for the future.

With just five seniors on the roster, the Raiders relied on a mixture of youthful talent throughout the 2021 season and had success doing so. They went 8-6 during the regular season and finished second in Section 3-A play.

Then, on Tuesday, after earning the No. 7 seed in the WPIAL Class A playoffs and winning three more games in the playoffs, the Raiders found themselves playing for their first district title since 2001.

“It was definitely a surprise,” Gras said. “We didn’t expect to be here, no. But we played well through the playoffs and we ended up here.”

In the first round of the playoffs, the Raiders survived a rough first inning and took down No. 10 Avella, 7-2. Then, behind a strong pitching performance from Enzo Lio, the Raiders upset No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic, 6-2, in the quarterfinals.

To set up their WPIAL championship matchup against fourth-seeded Union, the Raiders mercy ruled No. 6 Jefferson Morgan, 12-2.

When the Raiders stepped onto the field at Wild Things Park in Washington with gold on the line, they ran into one of the classification’s best pitchers.

Union senior Jake Vitale shut down the normally hot bats of Riverview. He threw a no-hitter, striking out 15. He allowed three batters to reach base via walk but not one of those batters passed second base.

“He just dominated, and I tip my cap to him,” Gras said. “He did a hell of a job today.”

While facing a stud on the mound, the Raiders found themselves behind early as Union shortstop Tyler Staub was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the first inning, stole second base and then scored from second when Riverview catcher Taylor Zellefrow lost a wild pitch in the backstop.

Vitale drove in center fielder Mike Gunn shortly after with an RBI single to make it 2-0.

Despite the deficit, Gras said he never felt like his team was out of the game.

“We’ve been down five runs before, and we’ve come back and won those games,” Gras said. “So being down those two runs, they were pumped and ready to go. They tried to challenge the pitcher, but it just wasn’t our day and it was Vitale’s day.”

After a rough first inning, Lio, who got the start for Riverview and pitched six innings of five-hit ball while striking out seven, started to settle in. He only let up one more run, which came via an RBI double by Gunn in the fifth inning. But, other than that, Lio kept the Raiders in the game.

“The name of the game is breaks, and they got a few breaks in the first inning,” Gras said. “Enzo didn’t do anything wrong, and they didn’t really hit him. The hits they did get were just singles. They weren’t driving the ball deep or anything. He did an outstanding job.”

The Raiders advanced to the state playoffs and will play District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic on Monday.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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