Upper St. Clair baseball clinches playoff spot with gutsy win over Norwin

Thursday, May 6, 2021 | 10:17 PM

Senior Max Mandler pitched the final two innings and delivered a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the eighth inning as Upper St. Clair came back twice to beat Norwin, 6-5, and finally clinch a WPIAL baseball playoff berth.

“All you can ask your kids to do is give 100 percent, and they gave us 100 percent from the start of the game until the end of the game,” Upper St. Clair coach Jerry Malarkey said. “They had a couple times when they faced some adversity and they tie it then win it in extra innings.

“We couldn’t have asked our kids to do any more than they did today.”

A day after losing a one-run lead in the top of the seventh, then not scoring with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the inning to lose, 4-3, to Mt. Lebanon, more opportunities were missed by the Panthers early and often against the visiting Knights.

USC got the leadoff man on base in four of the first five innings and got two men on with less than two outs in all five innings yet could not score.

The good news for Upper St. Clair is that Norwin was held to no runs on two hits through four innings by lefthander Joe Altvater.

“Our thought with Joe was, we had hoped he would be able to keep them off balance a little bit,” Malarkey said. “He came up with big pitches when he needed them. We came up with big plays when we needed them.”

Following a one-out single by Knights senior Eric Chorba, it looked like Altvater had picked off Chorba; however, a throwing error allowed him to reach second base. A walk and a fielder’s choice loaded the bases with one out. Senior Landon DiBeradin hit what looked like an inning-ending double play, but the throw to first got away and Chorba and E.J. Dunn scored for the Knights.

Norwin added to its lead in the top of the sixth when Ty Stecko’s RBI single scored Jake Kendro, who had doubled with two outs.

Upper St. Clair chased Norwin pitcher Luke Savage with a leadoff single in the sixth inning by Jack Shearer. Savage battled for three innings in relief of starter Noah Czajkowski, who walked three and allowed two hits in only two innings.

Knights closer Zach Potthoff entered and gave up back-to-back singles to Charlie Eberle and an RBI base hit to Josh Brufsky as the Panthers finally scored on their ninth hit of the game.

With two outs, Mateo Cepullio had an RBI single and Jake Casey tripled off the fence in center field to give USC its first lead, 4-3.

However, for the second straight day, Upper St. Clair could not hold a lead in the top of the seventh inning. With runners at second and third and two out, Alex Gabauer singled inside third base to score Dunn and Ryan Scabnicky to put Norwin back up, 5-4.

The Panthers again loaded the bases with one out. Max Mandler scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 5-5.

After a 1-2-3 top of the eighth inning, Cepullio led off the bottom of the inning with a single, Casey walked and a perfect bunt single by Nick Tanner loaded the bases with no outs.

Mandler then lofted a deep fly ball to right over the drawn-in outfield for a playoff-clinching single and an upset win for Upper St. Clair.

“In the Mt. Lebanon game, we had bases loaded and nobody out and just didn’t produce,” Malarkey said. “Today, Max Mandler, in the exact same situation he was in the other day, drives the ball to the fence.”

After three misses at a fourth section win, Upper St. Clair (4-6, 7-8) is playoff bound out of Section 2-6A. Canon-McMillan can join them in the playoffs with a win Friday against Baldwin.

Norwin (7-2, 11-2) saw its eight-game winning streak end and now must beat Hempfield on Friday to win the Section 2-6A title outright.

In his 36th season as head coach at Upper St. Clair, Malarkey hasn’t decided if there will be a 37th year. However, he was emotional after his Panthers’ big victory.

“No matter how long you do this, when your kids do what they did (Thursday), it makes you proud and it makes you enjoy what you do,” he said.

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