WPIAL coaches agree: Back-to-back section games ‘more equitable’

Thursday, April 8, 2021 | 6:33 PM

Baseball teams that opened WPIAL section play earlier this week had a similar refrain for their opponents: “See you tomorrow.”

The league went to a new format this season for section games with teams playing each other on back-to-back days, at each other’s home fields, to bring more uniformity to pitching.

It is all part of the WPIAL baseball committee’s pursuit of parity.

The two-game, home-and-home series will take some getting used to, but local coaches appear to like the change.

“A team will not be able to use their top gun every time they play you,” Derry coach John Flickinger said. “And because of that, it sets up a little bit of a rivalry with teams where if you lose Game 1, you’re hungry to win that second because being swept does not put any team in a good situation in the long run.”

The rationale behind the new format is to keep teams from reloading and reusing their top pitcher, sometimes against the same opponents.

“I really like it,” said Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski, who has a deep pitching rotation, maybe the deepest in the WPIAL on paper. “Every team now has to face another team’s pitching staff instead of facing one ace while another team might not face that pitcher. I think it makes for a more equitable way to determine a section champion.”

In the past, section games between teams would be a week or more apart. Now, teams are back at it 24 hours later.

“It allows coaches to coach,” Penn-Trafford coach Dan Miller said. “It’s more strategic and makes you think more about it.”

Pitch counts still are a part of the equation as coaches try to use or save arms for current situations or the next series.

Teams with depth in their staffs should be able to manage with little issue, but teams thin with arms could struggle.

Franklin Regional, a Class 5A team, has outstanding hurlers in seniors Brian Pirone and Andrew Muraco. But Muraco possibly is out for another month with a minor arm injury and has yet to pitch this season.

“It would be nice to have the two of them,” Panthers coach Bobby Saddler said. “I love (the format). It balances things out.”

Muraco was 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA as a sophomore. Pirone, who has hit 92 MPH on the radar gun, is 2-0 so far this season and tossed a complete game against Penn-Trafford.

“It’s been difficult not being able to pitch,” Muraco said. “I am dying to pitch, but I have to make sure I am ready.”

Still, the Panthers moved to 4-0 (2-0 in Section 1-5A) with a sweep of Penn-Trafford. Senior Luke Treloar earned the win as the Panthers won the second game, 8-4.

Norwin won its section opener, 10-0, over Baldwin as senior pitcher Jake Bazala tossed a five-inning no-hitter. The next day, the Knights were clipped, 4-3. Coaches agree it will be tough to sweep many of the series.

Flickinger said the time teams can dwell on a win or loss will quickly dissipate.

“You get right back at it the next day,” he said. “The only downfall is that once you play these teams, you’re done, so if you’re playing your best baseball at the end of the season, you won’t have those types of rematches any longer. They have come and gone.”

Derry was swept by Valley in its Section 3-3A opening series.

Teams in the lower classifications will have to get creative as they try to save their aces for the best teams.

“Playing section games back-to-back makes it a little hard for pitching purposes,” Southmoreland junior pitcher Anthony Govern said. “But everyone has to do it. It’s an equal playing field, so let’s play ball. I’m just happy to be playing again. I don’t care who or when we play, I just want to play.”

Govern helped lead the Scotties to a 5-3 upset of Class 3A No. 5 Waynesburg in the first of a two-game series Tuesday. The Scotties rallied for an 8-7 win in Game 2 as Mason Basinger earned the win and Ben Zimmerman came on for the save.

The format could bring some excitement later in the season, like a major league pennant race.

With head-to-head competition a key tiebreaker to determine playoff spots, a two-game series could decide a team’s postseason fate. A team might earn a sweep to qualify, or maybe earn a split to send both teams to the tournament.

“Overall, I think it will be good for everyone,” Flickinger said. “It makes the section more of a grind.”

The WPIAL committee is talking about going to playoff series next year.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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