Top-seeded Hopewell defeats Deer Lakes in WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals

Saturday, May 22, 2021 | 5:50 PM

Heading into its WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Hopewell, the Deer Lakes baseball team knew it had a big challenge.

The Vikings had gone to the WPIAL championship two years ago and came into Saturday afternoon’s game at North Allegheny losing five games all season.

Despite playing from behind for the entirety of the game, the Lancers never went away. They scored two runs in the third inning and left at least two runners stranded in both the fourth and inning, but they couldn’t break through and lost 5-2.

“We hit the ball hard today. We really did,” Deer Lakes coach Josh Tysk said. “We lined out several times. Justin Brannagan hit three hard balls and didn’t get a hit until the last inning, then (Jacob) Danka hit one off the fence, which could’ve tied the ball game up. But I’m super proud of the guys and the way they fought. Danka was an animal on the mound for us today.”

Hopewell (15-5) will play the winner of No. 4 McGuffey and No. 5 Derry at 4:30 Tuesday at West Mifflin in the semifinals.

After allowing five hits in the first two innings, Danka, who pitched a complete game and allowed five runs and seven hits while striking out two, settled in and limited the Vikings to two hits, which both came in the sixth inning, the rest of the way.

But the damage was done.

Hopewell’s Couper Stala led the game off with a walk, stole second base, advanced to a third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Chris Mullins’ RBI single. Then, pinch-runner Joe Asvestas scored one batter later on Lucas Arington’s RBI single.

Luke Kerec started the second inning with a single and scored on a Stala RBI double. Anthony LaSala, who pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed two runs on six hits, helped himself out with an RBI double.

Just like that, it was 4-0 Hopewell.

“It’s always nice to play with the lead, and Anthony didn’t have his best stuff on the mound today, so getting that quick lead was nice the entire game because it freed him up a little bit to work the corners,” Hopewell coach Morgan Singletary said.

After being set down in order in the first two innings, the Lancers bounced back in the third and scored two runs. John Lisotto led off with a single, and Jake Thimons doubled home pinch-runner Michael Butler.

Bryce Robson then singled and scored on Ryan Rodgers’ sacrifice fly.

“I just kept telling them that we gotta find one way to get on base and keep fighting our way back, scratch our way back into the game,” Tysk said.

The Lancers loaded the bases in the next inning when Jacob Danka hit a ball off the top of the fence in right-center field that could’ve tied the score. After LaSala struck out Ryan Cochran, he got Thimons to fly out to center field to end the inning.

“Anthony has pitched great all year, so being able to get out of that, we have a lot of confidence in him, so that was just him doing what he’s done all year long,” Singletary said.

Deer Lakes found ways to get runners on base in the fifth and sixth innings but couldn’t find a way to push two more runs across the plate.

The Vikings added an insurance run in the sixth inning before Lucas Arington closed the door in relief.

Two years ago, Hopewell made a run to the WPIAL championship game but came up short against Steel Valley in the WPIAL finals. Now it is looking to return to Wild Things Park.

“That was a tough one,” Singletary said. “Roman (Gill) pitched in that game and I know that’s driven him, and I think our seniors have been through that, so they know what it’s like and we’ve just reminded them. But as a team, we’re in a very good place going into this.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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