Undefeated Riverside rallies past Neshannock to win 6th WPIAL baseball championship

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 | 7:03 PM

Riverside rallied from a one-run deficit to score the tying run in the fifth inning and five more in the sixth, giving the Panthers a 6-1 victory over Neshannock in the WPIAL Class 3A baseball championship game Wednesday at Wild Things Park.

The win is the sixth district crown for Riverside and gives legendary 79-year-old coach Dan Oliastro his record-tying sixth WPIAL baseball championship.

Five straight hits to start the bottom of the sixth inning for the Panthers led to five runs to break a 1-1 tie.

“The first five innings, we just weren’t hitting the ball. I was doing everything I could just to get a guy down to second base,” Oliastro said of his team’s early offensive struggles. “I knew once we started hitting we would hit because we’ve done that all year.”

The Panthers scored double-digit runs in 12 of their 21 wins.

Neshannock senior Andrew Frye limited Riverside to no runs on four hits. Frye was lifted after 4⅓ innings, but later returned in the rough fifth inning to get the final two outs, giving him a total of five innings pitched with two earned runs allowed.

The Lancers struck first in the top of the fifth when Nate Rynd hit a two-out single, stole second and scored on a Frye base hit.

Riverside finally got on the board in the bottom of the fifth when Sam Barber doubled home Drake Fox, who had led the inning off with a walk.

With the score tied in the bottom of the sixth inning, the first five batters reached on singles.

“The captains came together and told everybody, ‘We need to hit now,’” Riverside junior Bo Fornataro said. “We do not want to hit in the bottom of the seventh inning. We need to get it started right now. The bench turned into a frenzy and everybody was screaming.”

Fornataro and Hunter Garvin singled, advanced on a balk and scored on a two-run single by Mitch Garvin.

Drake Fox and Daren McDade also singled to load the bases.

Sam Barber tried to squeeze home a run, but Garvin was forced at the plate. On the play, the throw to first got past the first baseman, scoring Fox.

A sacrifice fly by Sean Hayes and a run-scoring single by Evan Burry ended the five-run uprising for the Panthers.

Fornataro, who had three hits, said falling behind the Lancers motivated the Panthers.

“That was definitely a wake-up call,” he said. “We definitely did not want to chase them. We didn’t want to have to come back in the later innings.”

Sophomore Christian Lucarelli started and pitched 4⅔ innings for Riverside. Sophomore Hunter Garvin was the winning pitcher, allowing no hits and three walks in 2⅓ innings.

“(Lucarelli) just gutted it out. He didn’t have everything,” Oliastro said. “He threw a lot more off-speed pitches to get through some of those innings. Hunter’s like the iceman. He wasn’t even feeling good. I came out in the last inning and asked if he wanted to come out. He said, ‘Are you kidding, coach? At this point, I want to finish.’”

Riverside (21-0) becomes the ninth team to win a WPIAL title with an undefeated record in the last 50 years.

“We try not to mention it,” Fornataro said. “We’re just trying to take it one game at a time and not think about it.”

Riverside will play District 6 runner-up Tyrone in the first round of the PIAA 3A playoffs Monday.

Rynd had two hits for Neshannock (18-5), which will face District 9 champion Punxsutawney in Round 1 of the state playoffs.

“I told the team I failed them,” Neshannock coach John Quahliero said. “I want to take the pressure off them because they are hurting so bad. We put a lot of time in this past week trying to keep our hands inside the ball. But maybe we didn’t work on it enough, so I’ll take the blame.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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