Shaler erases 5-run deficit, celebrates PIAA title with walk-off win

Thursday, June 15, 2023 | 9:56 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK — Starting pitcher Derek Leas lasted only nine batters before his coach pulled him from the mound, but this state championship will be remembered for its improbable comebacks.

In fact, this one was so unpredictable that Leas was the game’s starter, closer and winning pitcher.

And that wasn’t the wildest part.

Shaler seemed destined for a lopsided loss until the Titans rallied from five runs down, forced an extra inning and stunned District 5 champion Strath Haven, 9-8, Thursday with a walk-off win in the PIAA Class 5A final at Penn State.

Connor Hamrick drove in the winning run with an eighth-inning single up the middle, scoring Logan Bauer and sparking a long-awaited celebration for the Titans (23-4). The state title was their second overall and first since 1980.

Even if winning seemed doubtful for much of the game.

“We definitely weren’t going to quit,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said. “I’m not going to lie. I had to drag a few kids’ minds back during the game. … I said, ‘Listen. Even if you’re not happy, you’ve got to act like it. Your negative energy is contagious.’”

Shaler entered the sixth trailing 8-3 before scoring five times. The Titans’ first seven batters reached base in the inning, including a towering home run by Miguel Hugas, his second of the game. After Max Saban, Leas and Ben Yeckel reached base, Hamrick hit a two-run single and Brady Alexander followed with a two-run triple.

Suddenly, the score was tied, 8-8.

“For a couple of innings, we were kind of down,” Hugas said. “Every player was like, ‘We can’t be down right now. Let’s get up.’ We had energy again.”

Hugas’ homers helped.

The Alabama recruit put a first-inning pitch into the right-field bleachers and his fifth-inning blast cleared the wall in right-center. A native of Venezuela who moved here three years ago to live with an uncle, Hugas had some added motivation when his parents and sister arrived for the game.

“They surprised me while I was waiting for the bus,” he said. “I had to do it for them.”

Shaler pitcher Colby Weber relieved Leas in the second inning and pitched solidly into the eighth. The sophomore allowed four runs on 10 hits and one walk before reaching the 105-pitch limit one batter into the eighth.

So Leas returned to the mound. This time he silenced Strath Haven’s bats in the eighth, forcing the last two batters into flyball outs. Not even Leas saw his improbable comeback story coming.

“Not after the way I performed the first inning and a half,” he said. “It was rough. … But I was ready. I wanted it. I wanted to prove myself again.”

Leas then contributed with the bat. He led off the bottom of the eighth with a single. Bauer replaced Leas on the basepaths as a courtesy runner and scored the winning run.

Strath Haven used three pitchers. Starter Luke D’Ancona allowed three runs on six hits in 4⅔ innings. Shaler scored three runs in the first, five in the sixth and one in the eight. Strath Haven scored three in the first, one in the second, three in the third and one in the fifth.

Shaler finished with 12 hits, Strath Haven had 15.

Hamrick, who had the winning hit, went 4 for 5. Shaler had runner on first and second with no outs when Hamrick singled up the middle.

“Before the inning started, I said, ‘I’m ending this,’” Hamrick said. “I can’t describe the feeling. It’s just dreams come true.”

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


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