Steel Valley baseball rallies past Freeport to reach WPIAL Class 3A final

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | 8:23 PM


The Freeport and Steel Valley baseball teams split their regular-season series in Section 1. The Yellowjackets and Ironmen met in the rubber match Wednesday with a trip to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game on the line.

Steel Valley rallied from an early three-run deficit with five runs in the top of the fourth, and the Ironmen rode the pitching arm of Mason Haley to a 5-3 victory at Fox Chapel.

“This is a great group of guys, a lot of seniors, and we knew we didn’t want to leave the tournament in the (quarterfinals), especially this year,” said Haley, who surrendered just three hits, walked none and struck out four in a complete-game victory. It was his first appearance against Freeport this season.

“We buckled down, did our jobs, and now we’re going to the championship game. I’m really proud of these guys.”

Steel Valley (12-8), the No. 4 seed, advances to its first WPIAL title game since it won the Class AA crown in 2014. The Ironmen will face No. 2 Hopewell next Wednesday at Washington’s Wild Things Park.

“This is a group of guys who experienced exits in the quarterfinals the past two years, and they wanted something different this year,” Steel Valley coach Patrick Loughran said.

“Now, we’re looking for bigger and better things.”

Despite the loss, top-seeded Freeport (14-6) is not done. The Yellowjackets will play in the third-place game next week with a trip to the PIAA tournament on the line.

“We have 11 or 12 juniors and four seniors on this team and returned like 20-something hits from last year’s squad. There weren’t a whole lot of people who were thinking we would win a section championship let alone be here in the semifinals,” Freeport coach Ed Carr said. “I told them I am proud as (heck) of them, and we want to get to that next step. We’ll bounce back and go after it next week.”

Freeport got on the board quickly in the bottom of the first.

Austin Kepes led off by reaching on an error and scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Matt Mitchell. Zach Allen, who singled with one out, later scored on a wild pitch.

Jarrett Heilman then drove home Mitchell with a single for a 3-0 advantage.

But Haley settled down after the first and retired 18 of the final 20 he faced.

“(Haley) had a rough first inning, but he was a gamer, battled back and had his control.” Carr said. “I thought we drove the ball well. We hit the ball hard, and they made plays. That’s what championship teams do. They made some key plays in some key situations.”

The only hit Haley allowed over the final six innings was a one-out double from Coulton Stewart in the bottom of the fifth.

“I think it was about getting in a groove and trusting my teammates,” Haley said. “It came down to sticking to the fundamentals of baseball and giving ourselves a chance to win, and we did.”

“(Haley) really settled in, and you could see as the game went on, he really fed off of throwing quality pitches and got more and more confident,” Loughran said. “He handled himself very well. That’s a very good Freeport lineup.”

After the Yellowjackets were retired in order in the second and the third, Steel Valley went to work in the top of the fourth to take the lead.

Joe Kraft led off with a solo homer to center field. Terevon Harris collected a two-run single, Noah Donis added an RBI groundout and Andre Good singled and scored on an error.

Good, Miller and Harris finished with two hits each.

Freeport’s Joe Hotalski pitched into the fourth and took the loss. He gave up five hits. Three of the five Steel Valley runs were earned.

Matt Mitchell worked in relief and surrendered three hits and no runs.

“Our pitchers did great today,” Carr said. “This team battled. We put up runs and had good at-bats. Things just didn’t tip in our favor today.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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