Riverview baseball set to play for 1st WPIAL title in 20 years

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Friday, May 28, 2021 | 4:38 PM


At the beginning of the season, not many people might have given the Riverview baseball team a shot.

The Raiders hadn’t made the playoffs since 2015 and hadn’t won a playoff game since 2014. Just two years ago, they were a measly 4-10.

But here they are.

For the first time in 20 years, the Raiders advanced to the WPIAL Class A championship game. No. 7 Riverview will meet No. 4 Union (10-5) on Tuesday at Wild Things Park in Washington, Pa.

“It feels awesome,” Riverview coach William Gras said. “The whole community is just ecstatic. It’s really just a great feeling.”

When Gras took over the Riverview program, he set a goal to try to put the Raiders back on the map. While it might have taken a few years, this year’s team has transformed in front of his eyes.

At the beginning of the season, the Raiders were a quiet bunch that didn’t get into games much. But the Raiders started to catch on.

Now, they are hard to miss, and they can be heard from a mile away.

“In the beginning of the year, we weren’t loud or confident. We had to instill that in them,” Gras said. “We had to tell them to get involved in the game. No sitting on the bench. They were supposed to be standing, watching the game, yelling, ‘Back!’ when the pitcher tries to pick off a runner.

“We just wanted to get them involved in the game more. They started to buy into that, and when they saw us win a couple of games in the playoffs, man, they really took off. Winning breeds all of that.”

The Raiders are 11-6 after knocking off No. 10 Avella, No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic and No. 6 Jefferson Morgan in the playoffs.

Each win was bigger than the last, and as the Raiders continued to win, they got louder, their confidence got more apparent and they became more relaxed at the plate.

“They started to believe in themselves after that first playoff win, and they feel like they can compete with anybody,” Gras said. “Everything has just started to click. In the last two games of the season, we just played terrible. We played two games against Springdale and one against Valley. We just weren’t there mentally against Springdale, but I could see it against Valley, so I wasn’t sure what team was going to show up against Avella.”

In the first inning of their first-round matchup with Avella, there was trouble brewing as the Eagles scored two runs. But that’s all they would get.

Junior right-hander Vince Shook settled in and pitched six innings of four-hit ball with 11 strikeouts before Enzo Lio shut the door with a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Lio bounced back five days later and gave up seven hits to Greensburg Central Catholic, and Shook closed the door.

The Raiders then drew eight walks against Jefferson-Morgan en route to a mercy-rule victory.

“After that Avella win, it just made them believe more and more in themselves,” Gras said. “They have more confidence at the plate, more confidence in the field. We’ve also been playing sound defensively.”

When he took over, this was where Gras envisioned his team, full of confidence and competing for a WPIAL championship.

“It’s finally starting to get to them, and they are starting to believe in themselves,” Gras said. “That was the goal, to take them and build them into confident citizens and during my first two years, they weren’t. Now they are and I think they know their abilities and what they need to work on. It’s a great feeling for me.”

The Raiders have a tough task ahead of them in the finals as they get set to take on Union, which took down No. 1 Eden Christian, 12-2, in the semifinals. But for Gras and company, the goal was simple: just keep being themselves.

“Let’s just go out, be aggressive and play our best game,” Gras said. “If we play our best game, I think we can win.”

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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