Trib HSSN Baseball State Championship Player of the Week for June 20, 2023
Tuesday, June 20, 2023 | 5:56 PM
Less than a week after leading Riverside to a perfect season, capped by a win the PIAA championship game at Penn State, sophomore Christian Lucarelli was out on the golf course.
After doing well on the front nine, he struggled mightily on the back nine and ended up carding a plus-14.
“My dad loves golf, and I love going out there with him and my brother,” Lucarelli said. “Most times, I get so flustered with myself and I get really, really competitive.”
While Lucarelli may get upset with his lack of control of the golf ball, he has proven to be brilliant in the center of the diamond controlling a baseball.
The Duke recruit was 3-0 in the PIAA postseason with wins in the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game.
In 17 innings pitched in the state playoffs, he allowed one earned run on seven hits with 26 strikeouts.
“Christian is incredible,” junior teammate Bo Fornataro said. “When you are facing that kind of heat, there’s not a ton you can do. Christian is an amazing pitcher.”
After starting and winning in the PIAA quarterfinals four days earlier, Lucarelli was told he would pitch in relief if needed in the state semifinals against District 9 champion Punxsutawney as teammate Ronnie Harper got the call.
Harper’s start only lasted two-thirds of an inning as he allowed three runs in the first. Lucarelli was called on a lot sooner than anybody thought.
“You’re in the playoffs. You’re in sudden death. You lose and you go home and are collecting uniforms the next day,” Riverside coach Dan Oliastro said. “We knew we had to make a change. There wasn’t time to mess around; we had to make a change. We were so worried about winning that game that we were prepared to leave him in, even if it meant going past (Lucarelli’s) pitch count.”
He got the final out of the first inning, then pitched five more innings of scoreless, one-hit ball.
“The slider, I struggled with in the early innings, but I was able to find it in the last two innings,” Lucarelli said. “I was able to start hitters with that and get them off balance. Then work the fastball inside to keep their eyes looking at different types of locations.”
The key play in the game — and in the state title run for Riverside — came with two outs in the sixth inning and Riverside leading 8-3. Lucarelli had thrown 75 pitches and one more pitch would have meant he wasn’t eligible to pitch in the state title game. Instead, with runners at first and second and the count at 3-2, Lucarelli ended the inning by picking off the runner at first.
“I hadn’t looked back at any of the runners, so they might get jumpy on the bases wanting to go because it was a full count,” Lucarelli said. “I do my inside move, and the guy at second base didn’t go, but the guy at first base was really jumpy and was halfway to second base, so I got out of it like that.”
The Panthers turned to their ace to start the PIAA Class 3A championship game three days later, and it turned out to be the perfect decision.
Lucarelli pitched 6⅔ scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and striking out nine as Riverside defeated District 3 champion Camp Hill, 4-0.
“My adrenaline was up the entire game, so I was in it every single pitch,” Lucarelli said. “I definitely had to get used to the mound, because it was a little higher than most of the mounds I’ve pitched on. Arm felt good, the body felt good. I think the velo (velocity) was down a little bit, to around 90, 92, 93, but I was able to keep that velo consistent the entire game. I felt good the entire time.”
The win gave the Panthers a fifth PIAA baseball championship (2005, 2006, 2011, 2012) and earned them a slice of WPIAL baseball history as they became the first district team to win a state championship with a perfect record at 25-0.
2023 Trib HSSN Baseball Players of the Week
Week 10 – Miguel Hugas, Shaler
Week 9 – David Shields, Mt. Lebanon
Week 8 – Evan Holewinski, Bethel Park
Week 7 – Ty Eberhardt, Hopewell
Week 6 – Colin Watson, Plum
Week 5 – Andrew Hart, North Allegheny
Week 4 – Frank Kula, Laurel Highlands
Week 3 – Mason Horwat, Avonworth
Week 2 – Zane Griffaton, West Mifflin
Week 1 – Ryan Opfer, Chartiers-Houston
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