WPIAL baseball committee seeds 5A bracket by ‘throwing out the numbers,’ focuses on matchups

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Saturday, May 11, 2024 | 1:22 AM


The WPIAL for many decades released playoff brackets that had no seed numbers, a tradition that ended several years ago.

Now, the top seeds have a No. 1 next to their name, the second seeds have a two and so on. But WPIAL baseball committee chairman Bob Bozzuto said this year’s Class 5A bracket would be better without the numbers.

That’s because the 5A bracket wasn’t put together in a traditional way since there were seven section champions. The top four teams got first-round byes, so Bozzuto said the committee focused largely on finding the best potential quarterfinal matchups.

“The media likes to say, ‘You’re the No. 1 seed, the No. 8 seed, the No. 9 seed,’” said Bozzuto, the athletic director at North Allegheny. “There were a couple of brackets where we said, ‘We’re throwing out the numbers. We’re taking a look at the potential quarterfinal matchups.’ That’s what we did. Class 5A is one where anybody could scratch their head. There’s no rhyme or reason to a multiple number of combinations.”

The committee settled on a bracket where No. 1 seed West Allegheny could draw a rubber match with section foe Shaler, the defending WPIAL champion. Likewise, waiting in the quarterfinals for No. 2 Fox Chapel is a potential rubber match with Penn-Trafford, which went 1-1 against the Foxes in the regular season.

“I don’t think there’s a comfortable spot in any of the quadrants,” Bozzuto said.

The WPIAL on Friday released brackets for all six classifications. Along with West Allegheny, the other No. 1 seeds went to Mt. Lebanon in Class 6A, Belle Vernon in 4A, Riverside in 3A, Serra Catholic in 2A and Union in A. Mt. Lebanon and Riverside are both defending champions.

The playoffs start Tuesday for Class 3A, 2A and A, while 5A and 4A have first-round games Wednesday. The Class 6A bracket has only eight teams, so those schools will wait until May 20 to start play.

The championship games are May 28-29 at Wild Things Park in Washington.

Bozzuto said the Class 5A bracket took the longest of the six to assemble. The unusual number of co-champions was the primary reason. In Section 3, West Allegheny and North Hills tied as co-champions. In Section 1, Fox Chapel, Franklin Regional, Plum and Penn-Trafford finished in a four-way tie for first.

Bethel Park in Section 2 was the only outright champion.

“We spent a lot of time on it,” Bozzuto said. “As a committee, there were a number of days that were spent with this, and there were many variations.”

The committee decided No. 1 West Allegheny and No. 3 North Hills each deserved high seeds and first-round byes after winning Section 3. That section has produced four of the past five WPIAL 5A champions.

No. 4 seed Bethel Park also got a bye.

But the committee would award a bye to only one team from Section 1. Bozzuto said Fox Chapel got that perk because it split its two-game section series against all three of the other tied teams. Whereas, Franklin Regional swept Penn-Trafford, Plum swept Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford swept Plum.

“I remember we had a five-way tie years ago, but those teams were 5-5,” Bozzuto said. “This year was 9-3. There were a lot of challenges that we had to discuss.”

He said Shaler would likely earn more than an eight seed many years. So, too, would No. 7 Penn-Trafford, which lost twice this week to Franklin Regional.

“Penn-Trafford went from a potential No. 1 seed to — on paper — a seven,” Bozzuto said. “The bottom line is, throw those numbers out and go by matchups.”

That’s why it made no significant difference to the committee if Fox Chapel was seeded second or third. The committee was more concerned about who the Foxes might play in the quarterfinals. Fox Chapel will face Penn-Trafford or No. 10 Moon. North Hills gets either No. 6 Franklin Regional or No. 11 Connellsville.

That 2-3 order maybe raised eyebrows since North Hills defeated Fox Chapel, 4-2, in a nonsection game May 2. But Bozzuto stressed that nonsection baseball isn’t the same as nonsection games in other sports.

In basketball, a team will still start its best five players in a nonsection game. But in baseball, a team often throws a starting pitcher other than its ace — depending largely on where the game falls in a team’s schedule.

“You could have apples to oranges,” Bozzuto said.

A nonsection win was discussed in Class 4A, where Belle Vernon received the No. 1 seed. The Leopards defeated No. 2 Thomas Jefferson, 13-5, on April 24. But Belle Vernon ultimately earned the top seed after the committee “took a look at the total schedule,” Bozzuto said.

West Mifflin was seeded third, Montour was fourth and Latrobe fifth. Like in Class 5A, Bozzuto said 4A was another bracket where a team outside of the top four could reach the semifinals or finals.

“Look what Hopewell did last year,” Bozzuto said of the Vikings, who won the title as a No. 14 seed. “If you look at how some programs have traditionally played in the past, nothing is going to surprise me if there are upsets on paper.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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