Vecchiolla, Laurel Highlands shut down Kiski Area in opening round

Thursday, May 16, 2019 | 7:24 PM

Andino Vecchiolla dealt with butterflies early in Laurel Highlands’ WPIAL playoff opener against Kiski Area. Then he just started dealing.

Vecchiolla pitched a five-hitter, shutting down Kiski Area’s usually proficient offense, to lead No. 6 Laurel Highlands to a 3-1 victory over the 11th-seeded Cavaliers in a Class 5A first-round game Thursday afternoon at Seton Hill.

“We just came with a lot of energy,” Vecchiolla said. “We just wanted to compete and play ball like we know how. Last year, the playoffs were a little bit rough, but we have a lot of young guys on this team. Experience (helped), but I think it was just the energy we brought today really did what we needed to do.”

Laurel Highlands advanced to the quarterfinals, where the Mustangs will face No. 3 Hampton next week. The date, time and location are to be determined.

After giving up a Ryne Wallace RBI double in the top of the first inning, Vecchiolla settled in and found his footing. The junior lefty faced just four batters over the minimum, walking one and striking out three, to help the Mustangs (12-6) overcome a strong pitching effort by Kiski Area’s Ryan Rametta.

“If you would have told me we would hold them to three runs, we’ve scored nine or 10 runs on everybody,” Kiski Area coach Aaron Albert said. “We basically played the game they wanted to play, whereas we’re used to 10-9 shootouts. It is what it is.”

Laurel Highlands, which advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals for a second straight season, answered Wallace’s run-scoring double in the bottom of the first inning with a two-out, two-run two-bagger of its own by Alex Gesk.

Gesk’s hit allowed Vecchiolla to pitch with the lead for the rest of the game, and he took advantage.

Twice Kiski Area runners were wiped out on the basepaths: once when Laurel Highlands catcher Caleb Scott threw out Rametta trying to steal second base in the second inning, and again when Vecchiolla picked Garret Polka off first base after his one-out single in the fifth.

“We’ve played in these games all year,” Laurel Highlands coach Scott DeBerry said. “We’ve lost five one-run games this year. And we had numerous chances to win those games, and we just didn’t. Today, we came up with a big two-out hit, and I think that changed the momentum.”

DeBerry said he believed the experience of close games helped the Mustangs, as they played sound defense behind Vecchiolla. Second baseman Santino Marra took away a hit from Zach Morrill with a diving stop in the fourth inning, short-circuiting a potential scoring chance for Kiski Area (9-11).

Vecchiolla mainly pitched to contact, but he had two big strikeouts in the sixth: freezing Wallace, who had two hits, with a fastball on the inside corner.

“In 2016, we were the No. 1 seed coming in, and we didn’t play in too many close games,” DeBerry said. “Last year, same story, and then we go into the playoffs and play close games and it’s just different if you’re not used to playing that way. It’s easy to play when you’re up eight runs, but everything’s magnified (in close games).”

Laurel Highlands tacked on an insurance run in the sixth inning. Garrett Myers led off with a single, and pinch-runner Dylan Bohna scored with one out when Rametta couldn’t cleanly field a bunt by Nate Zimcosky.

Kiski Area brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh inning, but Rametta grounded to third to end the game — narrowly thrown out at first base after third baseman Nick Kumor bobbled the ball.

Rametta pitched six innings, giving up three runs — two earned — on eight hits and striking out three.

“We did get here, and those guys haven’t been to the playoffs,” Albert said of his four seniors. “Getting them here was an accomplishment. The Penguins had to lose the (Stanley) Cup before they figured out how to win the Cup. You can’t cheat sports very often; it comes back and makes you earn it.”

Check out an archived broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .

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