West Allegheny knocks off WPIAL champ Franklin Regional in 1st round of PIAA playoffs

Monday, June 7, 2021 | 10:03 PM

West Allegheny kept loading the bases against Franklin Regional in the teams’ PIAA first-round playoff game.

Sooner or later, it was going to swing momentum in the Indians’ favor. Something was going to give.

It did a lot more than that.

Jamming the bags not only minimized their plight but also carried the WPIAL’s fourth-place team to a come-from-behind 6-4 victory over the WPIAL Class 5A champions Monday under the lights at Latrobe’s Graham-Sobota Field.

Instead of ending the season with three straight losses, the rowdy Indians live to play another day.

It will be the Indians (18-5) and District 6 champion Central Mountain (17-5) in the quarterfinals Thursday at a time and site to be determined.

Franklin Regional, fresh off its third WPIAL title and first since 2001, is finished at 19-2.

“Tonight it was more about what they did and what we didn’t do,” West Allegheny coach Bryan Cornell said. “We didn’t get that key hit, but we found ways to score. Sometimes you have to have a little luck. (Franklin Regional) is a great team and a great program.”

The Indians had just one hit and struck out 10 times when Panthers’ ace Brian Pirone left in the top of the fifth due to his pitch count of 104. When he departed, the Indians finally got the wheels turning and the Panthers’ fell off.

Pirone left with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the inning, and his team ahead, 4-1.

Luke Treloar took the mound in a tough situation. He walked consecutive hitters and the Indians cut the deficit to 4-3. Willard Douglas then flew out to center for a sacrifice fly to tie it, 4-4.

A throwing error by catcher Thomas Nicely down the third-base line allowed the go-ahead run to score, and the Indians left the bases jammed but took a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the frame.

“(West Allegheny) had some clutch ABs,” Franklin Regional coach Bobby Saddler said. “In the state playoffs, you’re going to see elite teams and West A is an elite team. That’s a heck of a team. They did a little more than us tonight. They were the better team.”

Winning pitcher Gavin Miller helped his cause with a solo homer in the sixth to give the Indians some breathing room. He had just worked out of a bases-loaded jam of his own, getting a pickoff and some help from his defense after three Panthers’ hits. He struck out Anthony Alesi for the third out.

Miller worked six innings before giving way to Devan Zirwas, who came on to earn the save.

“Gavin did just enough early for us and Devan did a nice job finishing it off,” Cornell said. “By no means was anything we did tonight pretty,” Cornell said. “But we’ll take an ugly win any day.”

All that after it looked like the Panthers might stroll into the quarterfinals.

The Panthers took a 3-0 lead in the first. Timmy Quinn grounded out to score the first run, and Caden Smith delivered a two-out double for a two-run advantage.

Nicely then added a sacrifice fly to bring home a hard-charging Smith for a 3-0 lead.

Pirone worked out of what could have been a dangerous third when the Indians loaded the bases with no outs.

While the senior ace did hit opposing pitcher Miller to allow one run, the damage was limited. He struck out three batters in a row to end the threat.

Nicely knocked in the aggressive Smith with a high chopper to short in the fourth to make it 4-1. Smith reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and reached third when he beat out a rundown attempt.

But as Pirone’s pitch count climbed, the Indians stayed patient and finally made some noise in the fifth.

“Hats off to Franklin Regional for winning the WPIAL title,” Cornell said. “I asked (Saddler) if there is a secret to (winning the WPIAL and PIAA). We’d all love to know what it is.”

West Allegheny reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA quarters in 2017 and made the WPIAL semis and state semis in ‘18. The Indians won the WPIAL in ‘14 and lost in the state first round.

With the Indians up 6-4 in the bottom of the seventh, the Panthers threatened to come back. Andrew Muraco and Smith reached base, but Zirwas struck out Nicely to end it.

The game was delayed a half-hour due to lightning with two outs, just 18 pitches into the top of the first.

“This could have gone either way,” Saddler said. “It’s tough to see it end this way. I felt we had the team to make a deep playoff run in the state tournament. That being said, it’s difficult to do.”

West Allegheny only had four hits. Muraco, Smith and Nicely each had two hits for the Panthers.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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