Top-seeded California defeats Union for 6th WPIAL baseball title

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 | 8:01 PM

The second time around was bittersweet for California baseball coach Lou Pasquale, who first experienced a WPIAL championship as a Trojans assistant in 2017 before leading the team to a title Tuesday as its head coach.

Top-seeded California held off No. 3 Union, 9-6, in the Class A championship game at Wild Things Park, as Brody Connor went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and Nate Zemany pitched six effective innings for the six-time champion Trojans.

“I’m almost ready to get emotional,” Pasquale said afterwards, fighting back tears. “I lost my dad in February. It was tough not having him here.”

Lawrence A. Pasquale Sr. died Feb. 26 at age 90, less than a month before the start of his son’s baseball season.

California (18-1) gave its grieving coach a boost by claiming its second title in three years and third this decade. The Trojans also won a Class 2A championship in 2017 and a Class A crown in 2014.

“It’s one of the greatest feelings I could ever explain, honestly,” said Connor, a sophomore, who singled in a run during a three-run first inning and doubled home a pair of runs in a three-run sixth that gave California a 9-3 lead.

Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs and will play first-round games Monday at sites to be determined.

California will face the runner-up team in District 5 — Rockwood or Forbes Road — while Union (15-4) will meet the winner of the District 6 championship game between Bishop McCort and St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy.

“You never want to lose,” Union coach Bill Sanders said, “but the good thing is we still have tomorrow. We’ll regoup and get back to it and be ready to go Monday.”

Zemany, a senior left-hander, pitched into the seventh before Union chased him with three consecutive hits, including Sean Louis’ two-run single.

Jacob Swartz relieved and yielded Brayden Porter’s RBI single before putting an end to the rally by getting Nate Schuller to hit into a fielder’s choice and enticing Caleb Lombardo to hit into a game-ending double play.

“I think the turning point was making a couple of mistakes in the sixth inning,” Sanders said. “If we don’t give them those three runs, it’s a whole different ball game. Our mistakes cost us.”

Both teams committed three errors.

California added to its 3-0 first-inning lead with a pair of runs in the fourth. Jordan Kearns tripled and scored on Fred Conard’s bunt single. Conard eventually scored on Colton Lusk’s squeeze-bunt single.

Union, blanked by Zemany through four innings, scored three times in the fifth to cut the deficit to 5-3.

Tyler Staub walked, Seth Pinkerton singled and Nate Meeks hit a sacrifice fly. The Scotties kept the rally going on Tyler Benedict’s RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Nate Schuller.

California added a run in the bottom of the fifth when Connor singled and came around to score with the help of two Union errors.

Swartz and Conard had two hits apiece for California. Tyler Benedict led Union with three hits.

Jacob Piktel followed Connor’s two-run double in the sixth with an RBI single to drive home Connor with California’s final run before the Trojans held on in the seventh to win the title.

California, which won its first two games of the WPIAL playoffs in come-from-behind fashion, didn’t waste any time taking an early lead in the championship game.

“It was enormous,” Pasquale said of the early 3-0 lead that ballooned to 5-0 after four innings. “I told these guys they can’t be digging holes every game and expect to come out and win. To get on top 5-0 relaxed me a little bit, and I thought they started playing a little more relaxed than they normally do.”

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

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