Trib HSSN Baseball Team of the Week for June 21, 2021

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Monday, June 21, 2021 | 6:42 PM


New Castle finished the regular season 10-9 overall with its longest winning streak being two victories in a row, twice.

One wild and crazy month later following eight straight playoff wins, the Red Hurricane are celebrating both WPIAL and PIAA championships.

“I am happy for the team,” New Castle coach Billy Cook said. “They deserve this. They bought into our program and believed in our coaching staff. The rapport that we have with our players is one of a kind. We are, and always will be, a family. These two championships are great for our program, school and the community.”

The week started and began with celebrations.

On Monday, New Castle played a PIAA semifinal down the road in Lawrence County at Neshannock. The Red Hurricane took on Section 2-4A rival Montour, a team that beat them twice in the regular season before the ‘Canes beat the Spartans in the WPIAL Class 4A finals, 5-0.

A wild and vocal crowd of over 2,000 fans showed up, most wearing white and red.

“The atmosphere was electric,” Cook said. “Seeing that many fans come out to support high school sports is overwhelming.”

The Red Hurricane didn’t disappoint as they struck early for two first-inning runs and held on for a 3-1 victory.

“Taking the lead was huge for us,” Cook said. “This allowed us to put the pressure on our opponent. Once you have the lead, your goal is to now win each inning. The roar of the crowd echoed throughout the complex when we scored.”

Super sophomore Anthony Miller was outstanding on the mound for New Castle. He allowed only one run on four hits while striking out 12 to go the distance and punch the ‘Canes’ ticket to the state finals.

“Anthony Miller is a special player,” Cook said. “He has all of the tools needed to become a big name in this sport. His situational awareness and baseball knowledge combined makes him a dangerous player. He pitched the game of his life on the biggest stage of his young career. I have complete trust in him when he is on the mound, at shortstop, or at the plate. He used all 17 inches of the plate to strike out 12 batters. Everything was working for him that evening.”

New Castle went on to face Wyoming Area in the PIAA Class 4A finals. Unlike most of the postseason when the Red Hurricane would strike first, it was the Warriors who plated three runs in the top of the third inning to take the lead.

“I had a quick meeting with the team when the inning was over,” Cook said. “I told them that we were down three, but we score much more than that in an average game. I looked at them and not one was hanging their head down. They knew it was early and that we would make a run at some point. The goal of jumping out in front was now behind us. Now the goal was to chip away one run at a time.”

Falling behind seemed to ignite the New Castle offense as it responded with single runs in the third and fourth innings, two runs in the fifth inning to take the lead and then three runs in the sixth to take control for good.

“When we scored our first two runs, we felt the energy of the crowd,” Cook said. “I told the players before the game that we will leave everything on the field. I said there is no tomorrow. We did a few things that we normally would not do in a game. We ran a successful squeeze play with two strikes on the batter. This was something that no one saw coming.

“In the fifth inning, Dante Micaletti, Rocco Bernadina and Nick Rodgers came up with big hits. Bernadina’s double was huge to give us the lead. Once we took the helm, the players’ mindset turned. Now it was, ‘Win each inning.’ In the sixth inning, Logan Gibson and George Joseph had a single each. Nick Rodgers came up and blasted one to the outfield, scoring both Gibson and Joseph. To say that I was impressed with the determination of our team is an understatement.”

Bernadina pitched six innings to earn the win, and he and Miller were a big part of the Red Hurricane postseason run. New Castle outscored its opponents in the eight playoff wins, 59-20.

“Rocco had another stellar performance on the mound,” Cook said. “The first few innings were not his best, but he quickly made adjustments. As a staff, we knew he would take over. He had outstanding composure and the will to win. That’s what winners have inside them.

“At the end of the sixth inning, Rocco was at 101 pitches. I told him that I was going to enter Miller into the game to pitch in the bottom of the seventh. He said, ‘Coach, I want the ball. I can get at least another out or two. Please let me attempt to finish.’ Rocco was able to strike out the first batter but reached his pitch-count limit. At that point, Anthony Miller came in to clean up, striking out the last two. These are special players. They understand competition and strive to be the best.”

New Castle has a great history of athletic success and championships, but the WPIAL and PIAA titles were the first baseball titles in school history.

“We have had the best support that any team could ever ask for,” Cook said. “Our fans followed us to the ends of earth and back. Our student section is by far the best in the world. All of our fans are amazing. For our youth program, these titles symbolize success as well as the hard work and commitment that define New Castle. It gives me goosebumps to see these players as role models for those kids just learning the game. These titles bring people closer together. I am humbled by the outpouring support that our community has given this team.”

2021 Trib HSSN Baseball Teams of the Week

Week 11 – Serra Catholic Eagles

Week 10 – Shenango Wildcats

Week 9 – Montour Spartans

Week 8 – Peters Township Indians

Week 7 – Eden Christian Academy Warriors

Week 6 – Laurel Highlands Mustangs

Week 5 – Bethel Park Black Hawks

Week 4 – Hopewell Vikings

Week 3 – Hempfield Spartans

Week 2 – Shaler Titans

Week 1 – Valley Vikings

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