Trib HSSN Baseball Team of the Week
By: Don Rebel
Sunday, June 2, 2019 | 9:57 PM
The Trib HSSN Team of the Week is Shaler, which climbed from the No. 5-seed in Class 5A to win it first WPIAL baseball title in two decades.
The Titans open the PIAA playoffs Monday against Lampeter-Strasburg, the fourth-place team from District 3.
“All these teams now are championship-caliber teams,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said. “So the boys have been going at it hard in practice. It’s been our main focus: to reel them back in, get back in the weight room, get back in cages.”
Shaler knocked off Trinity, Gateway and Mars to reach the district finals against Laurel Highlands.
The Mustangs, playing in their first baseball title game, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning on a two-out double followed by a run-scoring single.
That’s when Junker lifted starting pitcher senior Hunter Boyan and replace him with junior Nick Rispoli.
It was a stroke of genius as Rispoli responded with 4 1/3 scoreless, hitless innings. He retired the first 11 batters he faced.
“We didn’t want to get down too much in the big game, and it just didn’t feel like it was a good matchup,” Junker said. “We also knew that Laurel Highlands had less success against Hampton’s harder thrower, so that was already in the back of my mind.
“Hunter is a great teammate, and we knew he would be fine with the move, so that helps, too. We knew what Nick could do.”
Meanwhile, as Rispoli was mowing down Laurel Highlands batters, Shaler’s bats came to life as they tied the game in the fourth inning, then scored three runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth to blow it open.
“We executed, threw strikes and made plays in the field,” Junker said. “That’s a great recipe for winning. Then add in some timely hits and with two outs that was big.”
This is the 10th year for Junker as coach at his alma mater. He said this team is second to none when it comes to hard work.
“We always say the best team never wins, it’s the team that plays the best that wins,” Junker said. “So there will be teams that are more talented than us, but we know if we stick to our process, we can play the best any given day and the boys have been doing that.”
The WPIAL baseball title is the fifth in school history and first since 1999. Now, the focus switches to winning a second state championship for Shaler. The first came in 1980.
“The reason we took this job 10 years ago was to bring one of these to our hometown and to win a state championship,” said Junker. “So we are halfway there.”
Previous Trib HSSN Baseball Teams of the Week:
Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Week: Daniel Boehme of Seton LaSalle
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.