WPIAL Class 5A baseball preseason breakdown
By: Don Rebel
Sunday, March 17, 2019 | 10:33 PM
While Mars has been golden on the boys basketball court the last two years, the Fightin’ Planets are tired of seeing the silver lining on the diamond.
After losing to Latrobe in the first WPIAL Class 5A championship game in 2017, Mars was knocked off by North Hills in an 11-inning instant classic title game last spring, 3-2.
With one of the top players in the district returning, Mars may get another crack at that elusive first baseball crown.
Here is a look at the new district alignment, along with the baseball teams and players to watch in WPIAL Class 5A in 2019.
Preseason Top 5
Team (2018 record)
1. Mars (16-7) — It all begins with the son of head coach Andy Bednar, senior Will Bednar. The senior right-hander was 8-0 with a 0.64 ERA in 2018. He allowed 39 hits with 11 walks and 120 strikeouts in 66 innings. The Mississippi State recruit is joined in the rotation by senior Shane Fox and junior Joe Craska. Senior outfielder Rowan Fletcher and senior shortstop Tyler Kowalkowski also return.
2. South Fayette (17-6) — Twenty years ago, South Fayette won its first baseball title by claiming WPIAL Class A gold. Last year, the Lions captured another baseball title, winning the Class 4A championship with a 4-1 win over Ringgold. Now the 4A champs keep moving on up to 5A. The green machine returns several key players from the championship run last year, including seniors Ryan Kokoski (OF) and Mitch Dunay (INF), along with juniors Ryan Lutz (C), Eli Snider (P) and Joey Alcorn (P, OF, 2B). Pitching ace Tyler Bedillion is gone, but the Lions return seniors Richie Dell (Kent State), Kokoski, Alcorn and Snider to the rotation.
3. West Allegheny (16-3) — The Indians were Section 2-5A co-champions a year ago with Moon. However they lost to eventual champion North Hills in the semifinals. After winning the consolation game, West A reached the PIAA semifinals where it lost to Marple Newtown. Junior outfielder Austin Hendrick is a Mississippi State recruit and one of the top players in the district. Shea Downing joined Hendrick as a first-team all-section player from a year ago.
4. Shaler (7-10) — Last season was a rare miss of the postseason for Shaler, which finished tied for fourth place with North Allegheny and Seneca Valley in Section 1-6A, but lost out on tiebreakers. Now in Class 5A, the Titans are expected to be in the mix in a tough Section 2 with experienced pitchers back in junior Nick Rispoli (Dayton), senior Hunter Boyan (Pitt-Greensburg) and junior Jake Bredl.
5. Hampton (16-6) — Hampton was in elite company last year, finishing tied with runner-up Mars and a game behind champion North Hills in Section 1-5A. The Tablots were shut out in the 5A semifinals by North Hills last year then lost 6-5 to West Allegheny in the consolation game. Three key players returning for Hampton are senior pitcher and outfielder Casey Marshalwitz (Youngstown State), senior infielder Tyler Bischke (Kent State) and senior catcher Burke Camper (Towson).
Players to watch
Jordan Albright, Sr., 2B, North Hills
Will Bednar, Sr., P, Mars
Burke Camper, Sr., C, Hampton
Richie Dell, Sr., P, South Fayette
Ethan Frenchik, Sr., P, Gateway
Austin Hendrick, Jr., OF, West Allegheny
Michael Klingensmith, Sr., OF, Franklin Regional
Casey Marshalwitz, Sr., OF, Hampton
Nick Rispoli, Jr., P, Shaler
Andino Vecchiolla, Jr., P, Laurel Highlands
• Class 5A has 20 teams this year, down from 22 a year ago. Realignment moved Latrobe and Brashear up to 6A, dropped Shaler and Penn Hills to 5A, moved South Fayette up to 5A and dropped Obama Academy, Thomas Jefferson and McKeesport to 4A.
• Defending champion North Hills has a new bench boss. Gone is Randy Miller, as his assistant Steve Long takes over.
• North Hills won Section 1, West Allegheny and Moon tied for the Section 2 title and Laurel Highlands earned the Section 3 crown.
• Laurel Highlands pulled off a huge turnaround last year, finishing 13-1 in Section 3, an incredible seven-game improvement from a 6-8 section finish in 2017.
• Laurel Highlands, Fox Chapel and Trinity made the WPIAL playoffs in 2018 after missing the year before. Armstrong and Thomas Jefferson missed out on the postseason a year ago after qualifying in 2017.
Section 1: Armstrong, Fox Chapel, Franklin Regional, Gateway, Kiski Area, Penn Hills, Woodland Hills
Section 2: Hampton, Mars, Moon, North Hills, Shaler, South Fayette
Section 3: Albert Gallatin, Carrick, Chartiers Valley, Laurel Highlands, Montour, Trinity, West Allegheny
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.