There will be a new champion crowned in WPIAL Class 4A after realignment bumped 2018 winner South Fayette up to Class 5A.
However, there is a defending state champion in the district. After Ringgold had to settle for silver in the WPIAL, the Rams went on to capture gold and a first PIAA championship.
The Rams are back in Class 4A, along with the two other section winners from last season — Knoch and Blackhawk.
In fact, the Knights and Cougars are two-time defending section champions, giving several teams plenty of ammunition to end those runs.
Here is a look at the new district alignment, along with the baseball teams and players to watch in Class 4A.
CLASS 4APreseason Top 5Team (2018 record)
1. Ringgold (20-4) — Will all that postseason experience from a year ago help the returning Rams? Ringgold finished the regular season 14-3, but the Rams were 6-1 in the district and state playoffs, including wins over St. Marys, Hopewell, Meadville and Valley View to capture the school’s first PIAA crown. Five starters return for the state champs, including shortstop Koby Bubash (.427 avg), 2B/3B Jake Rongus (4 runs, 7 BB), C Bob Boyer (.419 avg), 2B/P Chase Angotti (6-2, 1.81 ERA) and P Josh Peters (2.84 ERA).
2. Greensburg Salem (13-7) — The Golden Lions finished in third place in Section 1-4A behind Knoch and Freeport a year ago, but the program took big steps in the postseason when they knocked off perennial powers South Park and Blackhawk to reach the WPIAL semifinals where the joyride ended with a loss to Ringgold in the semifinals and Hopewell in the consolation game. Six starters return for Bill Wisniewski, led by middle infielders Jack Oberdorf (SS) and Jack McBride (2B), along with pitching experience in Matt Wicker (P/3B), Dajauhn Hetzog (P/OF), Aaren Putt (P/OF) and Noah Sweeney (P/OF).
3. Knoch (14-4) — Heading into the final week of the 2018 regular season, Knoch was 13-1 and headed toward a first round bye in the Class 4A playoffs. The Knights lost to 6A teams Butler and Pine-Richland before losing in the quarterfinals to Hopewell, a stunning three-game losing streak to end what looked like a promising season. Knoch returns seven starters and its top three pitchers in Jack Bartek, Lance Cotton and Gavin Phillips. Also back for the Knights are 2B Isaac Love, SS/C Sean McGill and outfielders Ethan Sloane and Guy DeLeonardis.
4. Blackhawk (16-2) — Much like Knoch, Blackhawk was on cruise control until the very end. The Cougars finished as undefeated Section 2-4A champs and were 16-0 before losing their regular season finale to Mars. Then, after a first round bye, Blackhawk was stunned by Greensburg Salem in the quarterfinals, losing 1-0. Returning this year for the Cougars are senior catcher Justin Nixon, senior outfielder Jared Wright, senior second baseman Zach Zuchelli and junior third baseman Marco Borello. Also back on the mound are senior Chris Deluca and sophomore Ryan McClymonds.
5. Belle Vernon (11-6) — Last year, Belle Vernon finished tied with West Mifflin for second place behind Ringgold in Section 3-4A. The Leopards are expected to battle the Rams and South Park in the section again this season. Leading the returning starters is Youngstown State recruit Josh Hoffman at shortstop, along with his double play partner Garett Greco at second base. Catcher Cole Nayer and outfielders Logan Seliga also are back. After missing last season with an injury, Erik Pietrantoni returns on the hill for the Leopards.
Players to watch
Jarett Bach, Sr., P, Yough
Koby Bubash, Sr., SS, Ringgold
Isaac Guss, Sr., OF, Quaker Valley
Josh Hoffman, Sr., SS, Belle Vernon
Nate Homa, Sr., OF, Elizabeth Forward
Jack Oberdorf, Sr., SS, Greensburg Salem
Harrison Pontoli, Sr., SS, Beaver
Ethan Sloane, Sr., OF, Knoch
Kevin Vaupel, Sr., 1B, South Park
Zach Zuchelli, Sr., 2B, Blackhawk
• Class 4A has 22 teams this year, down from the 24 a year ago. Realignment moved South Fayette up to 5A, dropped Obama Academy, Thomas Jefferson and McKeesport to 4A and dropped Deer Lakes, Freeport, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks and McGuffey to 3A.
• While Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia continues his battle against cancer, its business as usual as he will be in the dugout and third base box for the Cougars. The team hopes to make it a perfect 19 for 19 on playoff trips this century for the green and gold.
• There are high expectations for a Beaver team that finished under .500 overall (9-10), but the Bobcats return plenty of players and could be in the hunt in Section 2.
• West Mifflin enjoyed the biggest turnaround in Class 4A last year. The Titans were 3-14 overall and finished last in Section 2 in 2017, then ended up 14-5 last season and tied for second place and a first-round playoff win before losing to eventual champion South Fayette in the quarterfinals.
• This is the 15th season of Class 4A baseball in the WPIAL. North Allegheny won the very first Quad-A championship back in 2005. Nine teams have won 4A titles since then, with NA and Seneca Valley leading the way with three titles each.
Section 1: Derry, Greensburg Salem, Highlands, Indiana, Knoch, Mt. Pleasant, Yough
Section 2: Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, New Castle, Obama Academy, Quaker Valley
Section 3: Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, McKeesport, Ringgold, South Park, Thomas Jefferson, Uniontown, West Mifflin