Riverview battle-tested for WPIAL baseball playoffs

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Sunday, May 12, 2024 | 8:28 PM


The Riverview and Greensburg Central Catholic baseball teams met May 6 and 7 with second place in Section 3-2A on the line.

The games turned out to be the competitive battles most everyone expected. But the Raiders didn’t get the results they were looking for.

Riverview dropped both games in the series, 2-1 at Riverside Park to open the set and 3-2 at GCC the next day.

“Obviously, we were pretty bummed out after both losses, but I think the way we competed against a playoff-qualifying team like that really helped prepare us for what we’re going to see in the playoffs,” junior Rece Stempfer said.

“Two good teams went at it both days. It was just the little things that hurt us.”

The results capped Riverview’s regular-season record at 12-6 overall and 8-4 in the section as it turned its attention to the WPIAL playoffs. The No. 7 Raiders will play No. 10 Beth-Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the first round at Gateway.

“We went into the games knowing they were going to have a playoff feel,” Riverview coach Bill Gras said.

“We told the guys, ‘This is your first playoff game.’ We performed well but just didn’t get enough timely hitting. When you have a catcher like they have, we couldn’t do as much stealing, so we had to get creative to move runners up. All in all, it was a good experience for the guys.”

Riverview outhit GCC, 9-5, in Game 2 as Stempfer, senior Jack Loughren and junior Tyler Aftanas each collected a pair of hits.

The Raiders led in the third inning as freshman Miles Duncan singled home a run.

Junior Johnny Bertucci took the loss for Riverview. He went six innings, giving up three runs on five hits, striking out one and walking three.

“We played well enough to win those games,” Aftanas said. “We learned throughout the season not to get too high or too low coming out of any game. We’ve been able to maintain a good level of focus.”

Riverview endured a couple of dark days April 9 and 10 with losses of 21-4 and 10-0 to undefeated Section 3-2A champion Serra Catholic.

After that series, the Raiders won seven of eight, with the only loss coming to Section 3-3A champion Valley. Riverview swept series from Apollo-Ridge, Ligonier Valley and Jeannette and edged Class 3A playoff qualifier Shady Side Academy, 5-4.

“The kids don’t like getting embarrassed, and they said it wasn’t going to happen again,” Gras said.

“They committed to stepping up their games. There is motivation in getting beat that bad. They knew they were a better team than that. They know they can compete with Serra. That is what did it for them to rebound and respond.”

Gras said his players welcomed the games with Valley and Shady Side Academy and a late-season matchup with Ellwood City.

“That extra good competition helped make them that much better,” Gras said.

Stempfer said he was encouraged with the way the lineup went after strong opposing pitching and the way the Raiders rotation stacked up against some potent lineups in and out of section play.

“It all came down to preparation before the season started, and it paid off with what we were able to do at the plate and on the mound,” Stempfer said.

The Raiders players and coaches understand that when the playoffs start, anything can happen.

Last year, Riverview, as the No. 10 seed, upended No. 7 Charleroi, 7-2, in the first round at Gateway.

The Raiders returned to Gateway for a quarterfinal No. 2 Seton LaSalle and had the Rebels on the ropes in the sixth with a 3-0 lead. But Seton rallied for six runs for a 6-3 win.

Two years ago, Riverview, in Class A, was seeded 10th and beat No. 7 Bishop Canevin before a 5-1 loss to eventual WPIAL champion Union in the quarterfinals.

The Raiders made a magical run to the WPIAL Class A finals in 2021 as the No. 7 seed. Riverview, despite a 3-0 loss to Union in the finals at Wild Things Park, extended its season into the PIAA playoffs.

“The guys don’t need to look any further than right here to know that once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen,” Gras said. “You have to bring your best game to the playoffs or it can end quickly.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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