Trib HSSN Baseball State Championship Team of the Week for June 18, 2023

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Sunday, June 18, 2023 | 9:27 PM


In 55 years as head coach of the Riverside baseball program, coach Dan Oliastro has witnessed a lot.

One of the things he had never seen a perfect season — until this past week.

The Panthers became the first WPIAL baseball team to win a PIAA championship with a perfect record with wins over Punxsutawney in the state semifinals and Camp Hill in the PIAA finals.

“I’ll be honest with you, that never entered my mind,” Oliastro said of his team’s 25-0 season. “It just doesn’t happen. You just don’t go through 25 games and win every single one of them. It’s just amazing. I’m still a little overwhelmed by it.”

The one thing Oliastro pointed to for his team going undefeated was different players at key times stepping up and helping the team earn another victory.

“Every time we had a chance to lose, somebody stepped up and did something,” he said. “On occasion, we’d get a home run, a pinch hitter coming in and getting a double, whatever. If you look back, we scored most of our runs late in the game. Fifth, sixth innings, it wasn’t unusual for this group. The third time around, we’re going to probably start hitting him.”

That was the case in the PIAA semifinals.

The Panthers trailed District 9 champion Punxsutawney 3-0 after one inning.

Riverside scored three runs in the fifth inning and five more in the sixth inning to take the lead for good.

“That Punxsutawney team was the best hitting team we saw all year,” Oliastro said. “You saw how they beat up on a good Neshannock team (9-1 in the PIAA first round). It’s win or go home, so we knew we had to make a change (at pitcher).”

Ronnie Harper was lifted after two-thirds of an inning and quarterfinals winner Christian Lucarelli was called on to finish the first inning.

Lucarelli ended up pitching 5⅓ scoreless innings of relief and finished the sixth inning with 75 pitches. One more pitch would have made the Duke commit ineligible for the state title game, but he picked off a Chucks runner at first base before delivering pitch No. 76.

Zach Hare had a pinch-hit two-run single and Darren McDade added a two-run double in the big sixth inning for the Panthers on their way to win No. 24 on the season, 8-5.

In the PIAA 3A championship game at Penn State, the sophomore Lucarelli started and was brilliant, pitching 6⅔ scoreless innings, allowing only two hits with nine strikeouts.

“He started out slow. I don’t know if he was nervous or if he was a little bit too strong,” Oliastro said of his ace. “The first inning was a bit of a battle, but once he settled in and he was able to get his slider over, that was a game changer. He throws a good slider, and you can’t hit that slider if you’re sitting there waiting for a 90 mph fastball. Once he got it over consistently, we kept using it.

“He was just outstanding. He came to us more as a thrower. He’s developed into a pitcher now.”

Fundamentals and young experience played in a big part in the Panthers’ success in 2023.

“This team is fundamentally sound,” Oliastro said. “This is basically the same team we had last year, but we were really young. Last year, at times, we had four freshmen on the field. When we got into the playoffs last year, we didn’t hit. This year, we made up our minds that when we got into the playoffs, we’re going to hit.”

Mission accomplished as Riverside averaged over seven runs per game in eight playoff contests this spring.

Riverside is tied for the third-most WPIAL baseball championships after winning its sixth district crown last month.

The Panthers have the most PIAA baseball championships of any WPIAL school with five.

They won back-to-back state crowns in 2005-2006, as well as 2011-2012. With only five seniors graduating, are they set to repeat on the big stage again?

“The only position players we are losing is our first baseman (Mitch Garvin) and shortstop (Evan Burry) and we have backups we think we can move in. We’re losing one senior pitcher (Ronnie Harper) who has been very good for us for three years, but Hunter (Garvin) is a sophomore, and Lucarelli is a sophomore, and we have some more kids we think can help out.”

2023 Trib HSSN Baseball Teams of the Week

Week 10 – Hopewell Vikings

Week 9 – Riverside Panthers

Week 8 – Neshannock Lancers

Week 7 – Mohawk Warriors

Week 6 – Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils

Week 5 – South Side Rams

Week 4 – Pine-Richland Rams

Week 3 – Canon-McMillan Big Macs

Week 2 – Mars Fightin’ Planets

Week 1 – Shaler Titans

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