Shaler rolls past Laurel Highlands to win 5th WPIAL baseball championship

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 | 4:42 PM

Prince sang about partying like it was 1999. The Shaler baseball team is going to take his advice.

The Titans beat Laurel Highlands, 8-1, on Tuesday afternoon in the WPIAL Class 5A championship game at Wild Things Park.

It’s Shaler’s fifth title and first in 20 years.

“I didn’t really enjoy one second of this season,” said Shaler coach Brian Junker, in his 10th season at his alma mater. “I was so focused on what we needed to do. This last week we’ve been locked in. It has been brutal.”

Senior Colin Harger was 4 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBIs to lead the Titans, who scored three runs in the fifth inning and four more in the sixth to break a 1-1 tie.

Laurel Highlands broke a scoreless tie in the third inning when Greg Hensh doubled with two outs and scored on a single by junior Andino Vecchiolla.

That prompted a meeting on the mound and a surprise early pitching change by Junker.

“The past few games, Hunter (Boyan) has been awesome. But he was missing spots and gave up five hits in two innings. This is a big game, the WPIAL championship,” Junker said.

“It just seemed like these guys were able to hit that changeup and curveball, and we had to go with the fastball guy. We came in with Nick (Rispoli) and it worked.”

Nick Rispoli was dominant in relief for Shaler. He retired the first 11 Mustangs he faced and only allowed one walk in 4 1/3 innings to earn the win.

“I trusted Hunter coming in, everybody does, he’s been great for us all season,” Rispoli said. “He told me was going to have a quick trigger. I prepared yesterday, and I prepared today like I was going to pitch. I was ready when my name was called.”

Rispoli struck out eight of the 13 batters he faced.

“We know what we have in Nick,” Junker said. “Nick was dominant.”

Trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning, Shaler pulled off a double steal with Harger scoring the tying run.

The Titans took the lead for good in the fifth and used small ball and extra-base hits to do so.

Braeden Campbell led off with a double and went to third when Tre Junker’s bunt was caught and then dropped by Vecchiolla when he hit the ground diving to make the catch. The ball rolled into foul territory, and the Titans had first and third with nobody out.

After a force out at second base, a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Justin DeSabato gave Shaler a 2-1 lead.

Harger followed with an RBI single, and Rispoli tripled to the fence to make it 4-1 Titans.

“Sometimes your offense needs a little kick start,” Junker said. “Our small ball gives us that kick start. The safety squeeze was beautiful.”

Three straight run-scoring hits by Boyan, DeSabato and Harger with two outs in the sixth built up a golden cushion.

Vecchiolla, who led the Mustangs with two hits, took the loss for Laurel Highlands (14-7), which was playing in the first championship game in program history.

Shaler (15-7) will face the fourth-place team out of District 3 in the PIAA playoffs Monday. Laurel Highlands will play the District 3 champ in Round 1.

Check out an archived video stream broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

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