Shaler ace Miguel Hugas comes through in PIAA quarterfinal win over Penn-Trafford

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Thursday, June 8, 2023 | 8:03 PM


The original plan for Shaler ace Miguel Hugas wasn’t to pitch him in the state quarterfinals, but Penn-Trafford ran into the talented Alabama recruit here anyway.

Three days after leaving early in the first round, Hugas made another start and scattered six hits as Shaler defeated Penn-Trafford, 4-1, on Thursday in the PIAA Class 5A playoffs at Gateway.

The senior threw only about 45 pitches in his previous outing but reclaimed his sharpness against the Warriors, especially with his curveball. Hugas walked two and hit one batter but escaped mostly unharmed by stranding six Penn-Trafford runners on base.

“My pitches were working better,” Hugas said. “I’ve got more energy. I was kind of sick Monday, but it doesn’t matter. I feel better today.”

He surely made Penn-Trafford’s batters feel worse by leaving three in scoring position. The 6-foot-3 right-hander had six strikeouts and forced two double plays in the win.

“He commanded his every pitch,” Penn-Trafford coach Lou Cortazzo said. “His fastball, his curveball, his changeup, he threw them for strikes. … When you’ve got a kid that can throw three pitches over the plate, guessing starts to come into the mind of a high school player. They start guessing, ‘What am I going to see?’ ”

The win advanced WPIAL champion Shaler (21-4) to the state semifinals for the first time since 2015. The Titans face Philadelphia’s Bonner-Prendergast (12-3) in a semifinal Monday.

Shaler hasn’t reached the state finals since 1999, and there was little celebration after this quarterfinal win.

“Our goal is a state championship,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said. “We cannot get there unless we win the next one.”

With three days’ rest, Hugas could start again in the semifinals under PIAA rules, but Junker said that decision would be made later.

“We love our pitching staff, and we’re not afraid to use any of them,” he said.

But having Hugas (10-0) on the mound Thursday was a definite advantage.

In the fourth inning, Hugas drew a swinging strikeout on a curveball for the third out, stranding a runner on third. In the sixth, with runners on second and third, he fielded a bouncer back to the mound and threw to first for the final out

“He threw his curveball for strikes, and there was a tight zone back there. Very tight,” Junker said. “When he throws his off-speed for strikes, he’s unhittable.”

Penn-Trafford starter Dylan Grabowski allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings for the Warriors (16-7). He walked three and struck out three.

Shaler scored one run apiece in the second and third innings to lead 2-0 and added two more in the fifth.

Titans senior Connor Hamrick had three of his team’s eight hits. Sophomore Ben Yeckel reached base three times and scored twice. Hugas also scored twice.

Penn-Trafford scored its only run in the fourth when junior Carmen Metcalfe tripled, and junior Chuck Fontana hit an RBI double. Fontana also doubled in the sixth.

“From where we started to where we ended, they made history,” said Cortazzo of the team’s first-round win over Central Mountain. “The first state playoff win was against the No. 1 team in the state. Now we come to face the No. 1 team in the WPIAL. That kid pitched a gem.”

Hugas earned an SEC scholarship with his baseball skills, but his coach said his resilience this week highlighted another of Hugas’ rare traits. When Junker pulled Hugas in the first round, there were no complaints.

“I said, ‘Hey Mig. We’re going to come with (a reliever) here. I don’t think you have your best stuff,’ ” Junker said, recalling their conversation. “He said, ‘I think that’s a good idea.’ He’s very mature.”

Shaler went on defeat Muhlenberg, 7-1. The situation turned into a win-win for the Titans because they could bring Hugas back for the quarters. But after that last outing, Hugas said he felt pressure to have his best stuff against Penn-Trafford.

“One hundred percent,” Hugas said. “I’m trying to help my team win.”

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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