Top 10 stories in A-K Valley sports in 2020

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020 | 3:09 PM


The year 2020 was one nobody soon will forget.

The specter of the covid-19 pandemic brought about hardships and challenges both in and out of the sports world.

But before and during those challenging times, local athletes and teams were able to make their marks, paying off many hours of hard work toward their goals.

It is time to look back on a number of the top stories of the year in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

10. Plum girls soccer makes WPIAL run

Undefeated and untied through 13 regular-season games, the Mustangs captured their second straight Section 3-3A title and rode a wave of momentum into the WPIAL playoffs.

The success continued in the WPIAL tournament with wins over Gateway, 6-0, section rival Thomas Jefferson, 4-0, and West Allegheny, 1-0.

A WPIAL finals rematch with Mars at North Allegheny was the defensive battle most everyone expected. A first-half corner kick from the Planets resulted in the game’s lone goal.

Because of covid logistics, only the WPIAL champion advanced to the state tournament, and Plum’s season came to a close at 16-1.

9. Gridiron greatness for Plum, Apollo-Ridge

The Plum and Apollo-Ridge football teams rode determination and experienced lineups to celebrated seasons.

The Mustangs recorded their first undefeated regular season (7-0) since 1977, captured their first conference title since 1983 and reached the WPIAL semifinal round for the first time since 1996.

Plum topped McKeesport, 12-9, in the WPIAL Class 4A first round to snap a 13-game losing streak to the Tigers. The Mustangs (8-1) saw their season end one week later with a 20-17 heartbreaker to eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Thomas Jefferson.

Apollo-Ridge racked up the points and wins in the regular season en route to the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL 2A playoffs. The Vikings dominated No. 5 Washington, 42-6, in the first round before falling to eventual WPIAL champion Beaver Falls in the semifinals to finish with a 6-1 overall record.

The trip to the WPIAL semifinals was the first in the history of Apollo-Ridge football.

8. Formica’s unforgettable birthday present

Knoch senior Mike Formica turned 18 on Oct. 28, and he celebrated in style with the top run in the boys Class AA race at the WPIAL cross country championships at White Oak Park.

Vying for a title at a new location because of covid-19 logistics, the veteran competitor didn’t let soggy conditions slow him down. He posted a winning time of 16 minutes, 15 seconds to place first, a jump of nearly 70 spots from his finish at Cal U (Pa.) as a junior.

In the WPIAL Class A race, Riverview senior Mason Ochs came within three seconds of his first district title. The multi-time WPIAL medalist and PIAA qualifier was runner-up to Winchester-Thurston senior Patrick Malone.

7. Pair of Burrell wrestlers earn WPIAL gold, PIAA silver

Burrell’s Ian Oswalt and AJ Corrado had quite the year on the mat. After helping the Bucs capture their 14th straight WPIAL team title, Oswalt (132) and Corrado (152) won WPIAL titles before making a run to the PIAA finals.

Oswalt won his third individual WPIAL title by pinning Highlands’ Jrake Burford in 1:35 in the WPIAL final. He lost to Glendale’s Brock McMillen in both the regional and the PIAA final.

Corrado took down Quaker Valley’s Conner Redinger, 2-1, for the WPIAL championship, but fell to St. Joseph Catholic Academy’s Caleb Dowling in the regional and PIAA finals.

6. Highlands boys basketball returns to top of WPIAL mountain

For the first time since 1995, the Golden Rams captured a WPIAL boys basketball championship as they took down Belle Vernon, 72-54, at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

Johnny Crise led Highlands with 23 points and 14 rebounds while Korry Myers hit six 3-pointers.

The Golden Rams went 23-4 and won 13 of their final 15 games. Their season ended in the second round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs with a loss to Grove City.

Crise was named the Valley News Dispatch Boys Basketball Player of the Year and Luke Cochran and Myers were honored with first-team all-star selections.

5. Deer Lakes boys soccer captures first WPIAL title, returns to PIAA final

The Lancers had another storybook season.

A year after falling to Quaker Valley in the 2019 WPIAL Class 2A championship game, the Lancers took down Shady Side Academy in a penalty-kick shootout in the title game to secure their first WPIAL title.

Deer Lakes finished 17-2 and only allowed two goals on its way to a WPIAL championship.

Led by Valley News Dispatch Boys Soccer Player of the Year Mike Sullivan, who had 22 goals and 11 assists, the Lancers punched their ticket to the PIAA title game for the second time in three years but came up short in Hershey against Lewisburg.

4. Knoch girls tennis holds court for championship success

From senior Laura Greb’s record fourth consecutive WPIAL Class AA singles title and sisters Brooke and Ally Bauer capturing WPIAL doubles gold to the Knights securing WPIAL and PIAA championships for the first time in program history, it was a landmark fall for Knoch tennis.

Knoch edged Sewickley Academy, 3-2, in an epic WPIAL team final at Shady Side Academy after the Panthers had defeated the Knights in the championship match three straight times.

The Knights won three PIAA matches by a combined 13-0 score, topping District 11 champion Moravian Academy for the state crown.

3. High-water marks reached by local swimmers

Fox Chapel freshman Sophie Shao punctuated her first varsity season with the best swim in the 100-yard butterfly at the PIAA Class AAA championships at Bucknell University.

Shao followed up her WPIAL win in the event with her first state title, capturing the 100 fly with a personal-best time of 54.22 seconds.

WPIAL gold returned to Deer Lakes senior Adam Morrison, who captured the Class AA boys 500 free title (4:41.14) for a second year in a row.

2. Burrell wins 14th straight WPIAL wrestling championship

In three WPIAL postseason matches, the Bucs allowed their opponents to score just 39 points as they took each of their victories in dominating fashion.

In the quarterfinals, they took down Beth-Center, 58-15, and then they beat a talented and up-and-coming Quaker Valley team, 57-15. The Bucs capped off their championship with a 63-9 victory over Burgettstown. They won 11 of the 12 contested bouts and recorded eight pins.

Burrell wrestlers produced a combined 14 pins against Quaker Valley and Burgettstown. Trent Valovchik (126), Oswalt (132), Noah Linderman (160) and Mikey Scherer (195) recorded pins in both matches.

1. Covid-19 pandemic cancels spring sports, limits fall competition

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, it brought an almost-immediate halt to the PIAA basketball tournament and swimming championships. Then, it canceled the entirety of the spring sports season, robbing seniors of their final high school athletic opportunities. It hasn’t stopped since.

As the pandemic continued through the summer, it slowly pushed back the start of the fall season. But fall sports were able to reach the finish line, and WPIAL and state champions were rewarded for their efforts. Now, the winter season has been pushed into the new year as sports were put on “pause” until Jan. 4 by Gov. Tom Wolf’s restrictions.

The coronavirus pandemic threw high school athletics for a loop in 2020, but it didn’t stop several great moments from taking place in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Honorable mention

Riverview boys cross country fares well at WPIALs

The Raiders finished runner-up to Winchester Thurston in the Class A team standings at WPIALs, but with the modified structure of the PIAA meet because of covid-related logistics, they were denied a sixth consecutive trip to states. It was Riverview’s fifth straight second-place finish at WPIALs. The Raiders had three place in the top 20, including senior Mason Ochs in second, and all five scoring runners finished in the top 25.

Fox Chapel field hockey returns to WPIAL title game

Fox Chapel, in the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2017, gave top seed and undefeated Penn-Trafford all it could handle in the Class 2A title game Nov. 2 at home before the Warriors came away with a 2-1 victory. The Foxes (7-6-1) topped Latrobe 2-0 in the semifinals.

Plum grad Alex Kirilloff makes MLB debut in playoffs for Twins

In September, former Plum Mustang and first-round pick Alex Kirilloff made his major league debut with the Minnesota Twins as they took on the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series. Kirilloff became the first player in MLB history to make his debut by starting in a playoff game. He played right field and went 1 for 4 with a fourth-inning single in his team’s loss. He also robbed Josh Reddick of a hit with a sliding catch in the top of the fifth.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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