Shaler puts best foot forward in section sweep of North Hills

Tuesday, April 25, 2023 | 10:51 PM

Heading into this week’s Section 3-5A series showdown between neighbors Shaler and North Hills who were tied for first place with 5-1 records, there appeared to be little separating these two recent district champions.

However, after back-to-back wins by a combined score of 21-0, the Titans and Indians appear to be worlds apart.

Following up on a 9-0 home win Monday, Shaler blanked host North Hills on Tuesday, 12-0.

“We didn’t play well last week,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said after his team split two section games with West Allegheny and lost a nonsection contest to Butler. “To be honest with you, it’s good when that happens because you sharpen your focus; you work on things that you struggled with. We had a couple of players go down, and I challenged the guys and needed everybody to step up.”

The challenge was met immediately Tuesday as Shaler scored two runs in the first inning for the second consecutive day.

Brady McGuire led the game off with a solo home run over the left field fence off Indians junior pitcher Austin Bakowski. The lethal weapon of the day for the Shaler offense was the sacrifice fly: The Titans had three of them. The first produced Shaler’s second run of the inning as senior Tristan Holland’s fly ball to center field scored sophomore Logan Bauer.

Call it small ball if you want, but Shaler’s aggressive offense had North Hills on its heels defensively throughout the game.

Showing bunt, actually bunting, being aggressive on the basepaths — they were all part of the game plan as the Titans continued to add to their lead.

“You show something, and if they know your team does that, then they have to spend time in practice to prepare for it,” Junker said. “We didn’t do a great job of it today, but we didn’t need to. I almost fell into the trap that this team is so good, we don’t need to play the small ball anymore, but we’re going to get back to it.”

Brady McGuire had sac flies in the second and fourth innings to up the Titans’ lead to 4-0.

After chasing Bakowski after four innings, the Titans put the game away with two runs in the sixth and six more in the seventh inning off of junior Jake Pollaro.

Highlighting the late eight-run barrage for Shaler was the Maguire brothers, sophomore Colby and junior Brady, pulling off a double steal to produce a run, an RBI triple by junior Brady Alexander and a run-scoring double by senior Miguel Hugas.

Hugas, an Alabama recruit, and senior Derek Leas were a combined 6 for 7 batting in the No. 3 and 4 spots in the Titans order.

On Monday, Hugas threw a complete game two-hitter in the Shaler win. On Tuesday, it was Colby Weber’s turn.

The sophomore allowed only one hit with two walks and three strikeouts in six innings of work for the Titans.

“He did a nice job, but if you ask him, he’ll tell you he did not have his best stuff,” Junker said. “He got better as the day went on. We’re proud of him and we’re proud of how Derek Leas came in because those two have been battling for the No. 2 spot all year.”

Leas pitched a scoreless seventh inning, striking out all three batters he faced.

North Hills (5-3, 10-4) is in the middle of a turnaround season. Last year, the Indians finished out of the playoffs with six wins total.

“To beat a team like that, you have to be at your best,” North Hills second-year coach Jon Pedrosky said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t anywhere near that the past two days.”

With the win, Shaler (7-1, 12-3) has clinched at least a share of the Section 3-5A title going into its final section series next week against Mars.

“That’s our first goal, to win the section,” Junker said. “We have other goals, and I’m sure we’re going to be talking about them soon.”

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