Shaler baseball team comes up big in WPIAL title game

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Thursday, May 30, 2019 | 9:20 PM


Six straight Shaler Area players came to the batter’s box and were sent back to the dugout in an orderly fashion by Laurel Highlands pitcher Andio Vecchiolla.

Senior left fielder Colin Harger broke the string with a single up the middle during the fourth inning of the WPIAL Class 5A championship game last Tuesday at Wild Things Park.

Shaler immediately went into its small-ball bag of tricks. Outside-the-box thinking by Titans coach Brian Junker helped spark the Titans to an 8-1 win for Shaler’s fifth WPIAL crown and first since 1999.

After Harger’s single, Titans cleanup hitter and winning pitcher Nick Rispoli advanced Harger with a sacrifice bunt.

Harger moved to third on a Colton Schott single, and Junker then signaled for a leave-early play.

“There were two outs and toward the bottom of the order,” Junker said. “I thought we had to create something because the bats weren’t going yet. We did a leave-early play, and I’m glad we don’t run it a lot.”

Schott drew the attention of the pitcher and caused enough of a distraction to allow Harger to race home and tie the score. Harger, who went 4 for 4, said it’s something Shaler practices all the time.

Harger was determined to make sure he got home.

“We needed a little spark,” Harger said. “Our pitchers were doing well. One little hit and move the runner over. We wanted to make the plays. We’re playing ourselves. You want to try to get the run in any way you can.”

Shaler (15-7) used more small-ball tactics to pull away. A squeeze bunt from Justin DeSabato put Shaler ahead 2-1 in the fifth. Harger followed with an RBI single, and Rispoli tripled in a run to extend the lead to 4-1.

“Once we got that one run, we could sense momentum coming to our side,” Harger said. “We had to capture it. We needed to add runs on and have a big inning.”

Once the momentum swung, Junker wasn’t surprised the runs came quickly.

“The kids are confident,” Junker said. “They are prepared. We are going to prepare and prepare and prepare more so we are more prepared than the other team. … We ended up with 11 or 12 hits. I believe hitting is contagious.”

Shaler earned more opportunities to show its creativity. The Titans played the fourth-place team from District 3 in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Monday. Results from the game were too late for this edition.

Harger isn’t planning on coasting after the school’s first WPIAL title in 20 years.

“We were hungry,” Harger said. “We wanted to make history. … It means a lot to the community. It’s been cool. Everywhere we go, people have congratulated us from kids to the older guys. We’re going to be humble. We’re going to thank people that congratulate us, but we are taking it one day at a time. We aren’t overlooking anyone.”

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