WPIAL Class 3A baseball preseason breakdown
By: Don Rebel
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 | 7:23 PM
Much like Class 4A, a new champion will be crowned in Class 3A after 2018 champion Brownsville fell to Class 2A with district realignment.
In fact, the WPIAL champion from a year ago isn’t the only successful squad to drop in class.
WPIAL runner-up Avonworth and PIAA Class 3A runner-up South Side Beaver have both dropped to Class 2A.
But while the top teams from 3A have fallen in class, the 2018 WPIAL Class 2A champions are moving on up as North Catholic is now one of 21 teams in 3A.
Here is a look at the new district alignment, along with the baseball teams and players to watch in Class 3A:
Preseason Top 5
Team (2018 record)
1. Hopewell (15-11) — The Vikings finished tied for third place in a tough Section 2-4A last season behind Blackhawk and eventual champion South Fayette. Like the Lions, Hopewell also enjoyed postseason success, beating Belle Vernon and upsetting No. 2 Knoch before losing in the district semifinals to South Fayette. A consolation game win put the Vikings in the state playoffs where they reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Ringgold. Six starters return, including junior all-section pitcher/outfielder Jake McGovern. Others returning are seniors Mark Phillippi at first base, Josh Miklos at second base, Tyler Beck at shortstop, Alex Kunzman at pitcher/outfield and junior outfielder Anthony Slate.
2. North Catholic (20-6) — North Catholic defeated Serra Catholic, 5-2, to capture the school’s fourth baseball title and first since 2007. The ace a year ago was Ryan Feczko, now a junior. He was 5-1 with a 2.30 ERA last year as a sophomore. He also had success at the plate with 26 hits in 523 at-bats during the regular season. He will be heavily relied upon by the Trojans, who will feature a lot of new faces after graduating 14 of their 18 players from last year’s title run.
3. Burrell (10-4) — The Buccaneers didn’t play a game until April 6 in 2018 and unfortunately for them, their season only lasted a month and 15 days. But in between, some good baseball was played as Burrell finished tied with Valley for first place in Section 1-3A and won a first-round playoff game before being eliminated by South Side Beaver, 4-3, in the district quarterfinals. Back for the Bucs are junior outfielder Tanner Spohn and senior pitcher Luke Virag, who were both first-team all-section players a year ago. Spohn will also see some time on the mound.
4. Freeport (12-4) — While several key players graduated from a team that finished in second place in Section 1-4A behind Knoch, a junior on the hill offers promise for a Freeport team moving down to Class 3A. With Sean Furlong gone, the mound work will be headed by Jarrett Heilman, who won by five games last year and ended up with a 3.05 ERA. Seniors Coulton Stewart, Evan McCrea and junior Aiden Skradski should take on bigger roles for the ‘Jackets this season.
5. Steel Valley (11-8) — Five years ago, the men of iron became the boys of gold as Steel Valley celebrated the school’s first WPIAL baseball championship. The Ironmen have been competitive ever since and should be again this spring. In 2018, Steel Valley finished a game behind Section 1-3A champs Burrell and Valley and crushed Charleroi in the first round of the district playoffs before losing to Riverside, 3-1. Junior first-team all-star Nick Harhai returns to lead the pitching staff that will include seniors Mason Haley and Joe Kraft, along with seniors Josh Fossick, Jacob Bayus and Brady Miller.
Players to watch
Dayln Brickner, Sr., OF, Beaver Falls
Ryan Feczko, Jr., P/OF, North Catholic
Nick Harhai, Jr., P, Steel Valley
Nate Homa, Sr., OF, Elizabeth Forward
Jake McGovern, Jr., P/OF, Hopewell
Cole Perry, Sr., IF, Charleroi
John Salvitti, Jr., SS, Shady Side Academy
Kyle Shriver, Sr., IF, Waynesburg Central
Luke Virag, Sr., P, Burrell
Noah Wijnen-Riems, Jr., 1B, New Brighton
• Class 4A has 21 teams this year, up from 20 teams a year ago. However, there were major changes because of realignment with Mt. Pleasant moving to Class 4A; Freeport, Deer Lakes, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks and McGuffey moved down from 4A; Riverside, Avonworth, South Side Beaver, Mohawk, Brownsville and Seton LaSalle dropped to 2A; while Beth-Center, North Catholic and Freedom moved up from 2A.
• East Allegheny was one of four WPIAL teams that did not win a game in 2018. The Wildcats finished 0-11 overall and have dropped 12 straight since their last victory May 8, 2017 against South Allegheny.
• Amazingly, the WPIAL Final Four teams in Class 3A last year are all in Class 2A. Brownsville beat Riverside, 6-5, in one semifinal game while Avonworth crushed South Side Beaver, 13-2, in the other semifinal. The Falcons then defeated the Antelopes, 5-2, in the title game.
• The 12 Class 3A playoff teams from 2018 were the same group from 2017 with one exception. Ellwood City made the playoffs in 2017 and was replaced in Section 2 by Beaver Falls last spring.
• Class AAA was the only classification in baseball from 1914 until 1979. Six current 3A teams have won Class AAA baseball championships in the past. They are Hopewell, North Catholic, Beaver Falls, Burrell, Ellwood City and Freeport.
Section 1: Burrell, Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, Freeport, South Allegheny, Steel Valley, Valley
Section 2: Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Freedom, Hopewell, New Brighton, North Catholic, Shady Side Academy
Section 3: Beth-Center, Charleroi, Keystone Oaks, McGuffey, Southmoreland, Washington, Waynesburg
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.