South Allegheny baseball splits with Steel Valley to earn 1st playoff berth since 2007
Tuesday, May 4, 2021 | 11:24 PM
South Allegheny has been waiting 14 years to return to the WPIAL baseball playoffs, so they were OK waiting another game.
Having lost a potential clinching opportunity in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday to Steel Valley, the Gladiators bounced back and won a do-or-die second game, 15-8, to clinch the program’s first trip to the district postseason since 2007.
“Coming into a program that hasn’t been in the playoffs since ’07 and in the section we had, for us to fight back after losing the first one where we gave them the game, these kids battled back,” South Allegheny first-year coach Dennis Reist said. “There’s a lot of fight in these kids.”
South Allegheny entered the doubleheader at West Field in Munhall with a two-game lead over Steel Valley in the fight for the fourth and final playoff spot in Section 2-3A.
The Gladiators just needed one win to clinch. However, a Steel Valley sweep would leave both teams tied for fourth place and the 2019 champion Ironmen would qualify based on the head-to-head sweep and the postseason drought would continue to grow.
South Allegheny jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first game, but Steel Valley responded with a seven-run third inning to take control. The Ironmen scored those seven runs on only three hits.
The Gladiators, trailing 8-3 in the seventh inning, rallied for two runs and loaded the bases with two outs before Ironmen sophomore Michael Twigg induced a groundout for the final out, securing an 8-5 victory for Steel Valley.
That made the second game a-win-and-you-clinch, lose-and-you’re-out game for both teams.
Game 2 was back and fourth with Steel Valley scoring a run in the third inning and South Allegheny answering with two runs in their half of the third.
Both teams scored four runs each in the fourth inning on a grand total of two hits, and the strike zone became the pitchers’ enemy.
After the Ironmen scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 7-6 lead, the Gladiators exploded for six runs in the bottom of the fifth. Four hits combined with two walks, a hit batter and an error gave South Allegheny a 12-7 lead.
It wasn’t exactly Air Jordan, but South Allegheny relied heavily on a pair of senior Jordans — well, a Jorden and a Jordan — to lead the way for a junior-heavy team.
Jorden Rhodes was a combined 5 for 8 at the plate with five runs scored as the Gladiators leadoff hitter. He was also the starter and winning pitcher in Game 2.
“He has been an unbelievable leader,” Reist said. “He’s an extension to the coaching staff, just a true leader. His gutting it out (Tuesday) on the mound was what we needed and what we rallied around.”
Zachary Jordan is the No. 2 hitter in the South Allegheny lineup. He was a combined 2 for 4 at the plate in the two games with four walks, four runs scored and four RBIs.
“Zach had the big hit down the left-field line that really opened that game up,” Reist said. “Plus he just throws strikes and he gets outs.”
Jordan pitched the final two-thirds of an inning in the first game and then finished off the historic win with two innings in the nightcap.
The loss snapped a three-game win streak for Steel Valley (1-7, 3-10), which will not get a chance to repeat in Class 3A.
South Allegheny (3-5, 7-8) joins Avonworth, South Park and Keystone Oaks as playoff teams in Section 2-3A.
“I think it’s a turn for the program,” Reist said. “I think it’s a step to show we can do this, we’re not the team that everyone wants to play and beat up on. We have to build on this with a lot of young guys, and I think we can build off this.”
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