WPIAL champion North Hills falls to Red Land in opening round of PIAA playoffs

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Monday, June 4, 2018 | 7:54 PM


Five days after celebrating a WPIAL baseball championship at Wild Things Park, North Hills' magical season ended on the same field.

North Hills managed only three hits Monday in a 5-0 first-round loss to Red Land in the PIAA Class 5A playoffs in Washington. The turnaround from district to state playoffs has tripped other WPIAL champions, and North Hills was celebrating its first title in team history.

But Monday's loss had more to do with Red Land's pitcher than any so-called hangover.

“You hear the guys talk about the WPIAL hangover, but our guys don't know anything about that,” North Hills coach Randy Miller said. “We were just enjoying the fact that we've been playing some good baseball. It was another game, it doesn't matter who, what, where or when. We felt we were ready to go.

“They're going to be hurting a little bit on the bus ride back,” Miller added, “but I don't think it's going to take them too long to bounce back, look back and say, ‘What a year.'”

North Hills ran into a District 3 team with a tough lefty on the mound and a few Little League World Series stars in its lineup.

Red Land sophomore Luke Wagner allowed only three singles and struck out six with a fastball that touched 90 mph on the Wild Things Park scoreboard. His cousin, first baseman Cole Wagner, drove in three runs, including a two-run triple in the seventh.

Cole Wagner was a star for the Lewisberry team that lost to Japan in the 2015 Little League World Series.

“I've coached them since they were 10, maybe 7 or 8, honestly,” said Red Land coach Nate Ebbert, who has two of that Little League team's coaches on his staff. “They've been coached hard and had a lot of expectations heaped on them. We always had expectations of being good these couple of years. When you win a national championship at the Little League World Series, it makes everyone else say you'd better be good.”

Red Land reached the PIAA playoffs as the fourth-place team from Harrisburg-based District 3. The Patriots face West Allegheny in the quarterfinals Thursday.

North Hills had faced left-handers twice in the WPIAL playoffs in wins over Franklin Regional and West Allegheny but struggled against Wagner.

The Indians had their best chance in the second, when Luke Wagner allowed two Indians to reach base with a single and a walk, but he struck out the three other batters he faced in the inning.

Wagner improved to 9-1.

“He's just a quality arm,” Miller said. “Throwing 88, 90, spotting his fastball, locating well, had a great off-speed pitch. He kept our guys off balance. We did have some good swings but a lot of times it was at them.

“We're familiar and confident with our approach against leftys but the kid pitched a gem.”

Red Land scored two runs in the third and three in the seventh against North Hills starter Joey Pusateri, who allowed 10 hits, no walks and struck out two in 6 23 innings.

“We were hoping to have that nice comeback at the end of the game and move on,” Miller said, “but Red Land was the better team today.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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