Westmoreland County’s top 10 sports stories of 2022

Saturday, December 31, 2022 | 10:01 AM

There were thrilling wins. There were gut-wrenching losses.

Records were set and broken.

The 2022 local sports year had breakthrough moments and dominating performances, first-time champions, veteran leaders and next-level talent.

Teams and individuals left their mark in a tapestry of memories.

Here are the top 10 local sports stories of 2022:

10. Longtime coach Joe Salvino became only the third WPIAL boys basketball coach to reach 700 career wins.

Salvino earned the milestone win when Belle Vernon defeated Obama Academy, 73-51, in a PIAA Class 4A playoff game.

He joined Don Graham of North Catholic (801) and Ken Misiak of Geibel (730) in the 700 Club.

Salvino won 639 games at Monessen over 34 seasons before he came to Belle Vernon in 2018. He took a record of 700-286 into this season.

9. The Seton Hill softball team had a breakthrough postseason, reaching the NCAA Division II World Series.

The Griffins won the Atlantic Region title and finished with a record of 42-12. They were seventh in the top 25 rankings, their best Division II ranking by the National Fast Pitch Coaches Association.

8. Record-breaking thrower Liz Tapper of Hempfield won a national discus championship at the New Balance National in Philadelphia with a throw of 163 feet, 2 inches.

The Michigan commit won WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A titles in the discus and shot put. She was named the Trib Westmoreland Athlete of the Year.

7. Mt. Pleasant senior Dayton Pitzer brought home his third PIAA wrestling title from Hershey.

The standout 215-pounder used a first-period pin to earn title No. 3 to finish 45-0 for the season and 130-3 for his career. He earned his 100th career pin along the way, and his matches at the state tournament totaled 4 minutes, 13 seconds of mat time.

Pitzer, who had 38 pins during the season, won the Robert W. Craig Outstanding Wrestler Award and the Michael L. Smith Most Falls in Least Time Award in Class 2A.

Pitzer won 68 straight matches to finish his prep career before taking his talents to Pitt.

Latrobe junior Vinny Kilkeary also won a state title, at 120 pounds. Kilkeary, an Ohio State commit, also was a PIAA champion in 2019.

6. Ligonier Valley ace pitcher Maddie Griffin struck out all 21 batters she faced in a 3-0 victory over Seton LaSalle on April 25.

Griffin, a Youngstown State commit, threw 81 pitches, 66 for strikes, and 10 of her K’s were looking.

She had 14 career no-hitters at Ligonier Valley. Her final record was 29-5, and she had 492 strikeouts and a 0.36 ERA.

5. The Norwin hockey team skated to its first PIHL Penguins Cup championship as the Knights defeated McDowell, 5-0, to take the Class A title.

The team had not been to the finals since 1984. It played West Chester East, the Flyers Cup champion, in the Pennsylvania Cup but lost 10-0 to finish 16-5-4.

Ty Shigo had 41 points on 18 goals and 23 assists, and Alex Thomas had 25 goals and Logan Fear 21 goals and 16 assists.

4. Latrobe, under first-year coach Ron Prady, posted its first WPIAL football playoff win since 1968.

The Wildcats got past Highlands, 28-21, in overtime for their seventh win, the most they had in a season since 2001.

Ligonier Valley made history with its first WPIAL playoff win in football. The Rams held back Western Beaver for a 27-20 first-round win at Greensburg’s Offutt Field.

Ligonier Valley rejoined the WPIAL in 2020 after 50 years in District 6.

3. Slugger JJ Matijevic was promoted to the Houston Astros, his first big-league call-up after a few seasons in the minors.

Matijevic, 27, was an instant hit with the eventual World Series champions. The first two MLB hits for the Norwin alum were home runs.

Matijevic made several trips between Triple-A Sugar Land and the Astros before earning a spot on the major league team’s taxi squad for the World Series, which means he will receive a championship ring.

2. The Southmoreland community mourned the death of incumbent head football coach Ron Frederick, who died of a heart attack the day after he learned he was the recommended candidate for the job.

Frederick, 40, was honored throughout the season by the Scotties and neighboring programs. The school hired the Scotties alum posthumously.

1. As fire truck sirens sounded and players waved from high atop the back of ladder trucks, the realization for Belle Vernon football fans set in.

The Leopards really did it.

A championship parade punctuated a thrilling season for Belle Vernon, which won its first PIAA title to double down on its first WPIAL title since 1995.

If the Leopards’ final game came with a catchy headline, it might make a nod to Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

Belle Vernon had a one-point lead, and Neumann-Goretti had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line at Cumberland Valley.

The Leopards forced a fumble on third down from the 1, and Aiden Johnson ripped the ball away for the game-sealing fumble recovery.

The memorable goal-line stand was the top highlight, but the Leopards also had three interceptions, standout Quinton Martin ran for a touchdown and Willie Schwerha kicked a field goal in the victory.

The Leopards ran past Avonworth in the WPIAL final at Acrisure Stadium, 24-7, as Martin put on a show. The five-star prospect caught a touchdown, ran for another and added a brilliant 51-yard punt return score for the Leopards.

Honorable mention

• The swimming postseason was fit for a King.

Mt. Pleasant freshman Lily King won PIAA Class 2A gold medals in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and the 400 freestyle relay.

She set a state record in the 50 free with a time of 22.66 seconds.

King led the Vikings to a WPIAL Class 2A championship.

She later qualified for the USA Swimming National Select Camp in Colorado and qualified for the Olympic Trials.

Her qualifying time of 25.50 seconds in the 50 free came at the Toyota U.S. Open Championships at Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, N.C.

• Belle Vernon senior Viva Kreis won the 2022 Heisman High School Scholarship, a national honor that earned her $10,000 toward college.

Kreis, a three-sport athlete in cross country, track and basketball, is chasing a spot in the Olympics as a handball player. She played for the U.S. National team.

Kreis plans to attend Arizona State.

• Senior Hunter Jurica became Derry’s first boys golf champion by winning the WPIAL Class 2A title at storied Oakmont Country Club. The Saint Francis (Pa.) commit was the first county champion to win in the WPIAL’s new 36-hole format.

• Westmoreland County Community College announced it will offer athletic scholarships, as part of its move to NCJAA Division II, in the fall of 2023.

• Rising golf talent Palmer Jackson, a senior at Notre Dame, played in two PGA Tour events. The Franklin Regional alum is one of the top college golfers in the world amateur rankings.

Hempfield and Norwin football moved down a classification, from Class 6A to 5A. Hempfield got off to a 5-0 start and drew attention across the state before injuries derailed the feel-good story.

• Longtime area basketball coach Gene Brisbane collected his 400th victory. The current Derry girls basketball coach guided the Hempfield girls for 20 years and also coached the Westmoreland County Community College women.

• The Hempfield cheerleading squad won the Competitive Spirit Championship in Hershey, taking the 3A Large Division title over 19 others teams. Their score of 94.2 edged them past Cumberland Valley in the finals. The Spartans also won the WPIAL title.

• Saint Francis (Pa.) quarterback Justin Sliwoski, a Hempfield product, was invited to the Manning Passing Camp, where he received a critique from quarterback royalty in Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning.

• Former Latrobe basketball standouts Austin Butler and Jake Biss turned professional after outstanding college careers. Butler, who played a fifth season at Charlotte after graduating from Holy Cross, signed with the Kouvot club in Kouvola in Finland, and Biss left Shippensburg to play for the Den Helder Suns club in Den Helder, The Netherlands.

• Longtime Greensburg Salem track and field and cross country coach Steve Snider died at 72.

• The Mt. Pleasant girls soccer team made the WPIAL finals and the PIAA playoffs, for the first time.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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