Union captures 1st WPIAL baseball title behind Jake Vitale’s no-hitter

Tuesday, June 1, 2021 | 3:43 PM

After making trips to the WPIAL Class A baseball championship game in 2018 and ’19 without claiming a championship, the Union Scotties weren’t leaving Wild Things Park empty handed Tuesday.

Senior Jake Vitale made sure of it.

The 5-foot-9 southpaw threw a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts and three walks in a 3-0 victory over No. 7 Riverview (11-7) to give No. 4 Union (11-5) its first WPIAL baseball title.

“This feels amazing because during both my freshman and sophomore year, we came up short to Vincentian and California, then last year I felt like we had a pretty good chance,” Vitale said. “So this is for the seniors, and the sophomores who lost their year last year.”

In 2018, Vincentian handed the Scotties a 6-1 loss, then California took down Union, 9-6, in 2019. When the Scotties made their “business trip” — a Union mantra in 2021 — to Wild Things Park on Tuesday, Union coach Bill Sanders could tell this one had a different feel.

“On the way down, (Vitale) had a look in his eye when we were going to play OLSH when he was starting, he had a look going to play Eden when he was starting, and today, he was locked in from the start,” Sanders said. “I was kinda worried about the long time frame to start the game, kinda sitting around and things, but he got himself ready to go and he was locked in.”

Vitale started the game on the right foot by striking out the first three batters, and then his offense immediately gave him a few runs of support.

Union shortstop Tyler Staub got hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the first inning before stealing second and scoring on a wild pitch that Riverview catcher Taylor Zellefrow lost in the backstop. Vitale then drove in Mike Gunn with an RBI single to make it 2-0.

All season long, Riverview coach Bill Gras looked to instill confidence in his team, and despite the early deficit, Gras said the Raiders remained convinced they could bounce back.

“We’ve been down five runs before, and we’ve come back and won those games,” Gras said. “So being down those two runs, they were pumped and ready to go. They tried to challenge the pitcher, but it just wasn’t our day and it was Vitale’s day.”

Riverview starting pitcher Enzo Lio, who pitched five innings and struck out seven while allowing five hits, settled in after Union jumped out to its early lead. He allowed just a single in the second and the fourth before Gunn’s RBI double in the fifth inning.

Mack Stanley led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a single but quickly was erased with a 6-4-3 double-play ball, then Lio ended the inning with a strikeout.

He also tallied three strikeouts in the second inning and capped the third inning with a strikeout to strand Brennen Porter, who reached on an error to lead off the inning, at second.

“The name of the game is breaks, and they got a few breaks in the first inning,” Gras said. “Enzo didn’t do anything wrong, and they didn’t really hit him. The hits they did get were just singles. They weren’t driving the ball deep or anything. He did an outstanding job.”

Staub reached base in the bottom of the fifth inning on a walk and stole second and third before coming around to score on Gunn’s RBI double to put the game away.

It was at that moment that Sanders felt like he could take a breath.

“We wanted to get more, and, you know, Enzo threw a great game and he kept us off balance by mixing spots and mixing speeds,” Sanders said. “But getting that third run, it was, ‘They are not getting to us.’ ”

In the final inning, Vitale induced two ground balls, one to third base and one to shortstop, before recording his 15th strikeout of the game to seal the deal.

With his younger brother, Nick, behind the plate, Jake delivered one of the best performances of the season. Everything went according to plan.

“My plan was to stick with my fastball during the first inning to see how they would catch on with it, and I felt like I was able to get enough movement that they wouldn’t catch on,” Jake Vitale said. “So we stuck with that for most of the game, but we mixed in the slider and the changeup as well.”

Watch the video stream archive of this game on Trib HSSN.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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