Jason Mackey Column

Pitching, momentum key to playoffs

Pitching, momentum key to high school playoff wins

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At the beginning of the season, California baseball coach Don Hartman wondered who would replace pitcher T.D. Conway, who won 12 games, struck out 120 batters in 73 innings and carried the Trojans to the WPIAL Class A championship game.


Hartman should have a pretty good idea by now.


Though the Trojans ceded the Section 1-A title to Carmichaels, they enter the WPIAL playoffs with perhaps the two most important commodities this time of year: plenty of pitching and momentum.


Josh Luko, Brian Fisher and Louden Conte give California a trio strong and deep enough to win when tightly packed rounds afford little rest.


And the momentum? Try six straight wins, double-digit runs in four of them and one-run decisions over Carmichaels and Thomas Jefferson, the No. 9 seed in the Class AAA playoffs, to close the regular season.


California (15-4) opens with Sewickley Academy Monday at Burgettstown, and don’t be surprised if the Trojans make the No. 6 seed they were given look rather inconsequential.


A win over Sewickley Academy, which has lost three of five and is in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, would net a quarterfinal matchup with No. 3 Riverview or No. 14 Rochester.


On the opposite side of the bracket from California is rival Carmichaels (12-3).


The Mikes are much more top heavy with Brandon Lawless (6-1, 2.05 ERA) entrenched as one of the classification’s top arms, and they’ll open with Frazier Monday at Mt. Pleasant, a team they lost to, 9-7, back on April 4.


I’d love to see the map used for sending Washington, the co-champion in Section 2-AA, to play Laurel at Chippewa Park in the first round.


I guess there wasn’t anything available in New Castle? Seriously. Google it.


While California has plenty of momentum heading into the playoffs, the Prexies haven’t been as fortunate – perhaps a reason for the long road trip.


Wash High has dropped four of its past seven, all of them in section play, since topping Burgettstown, 9-7, on April 18.


Which team will show up, the 8-1 first-half surprise or the bunch that went 3-4 down the stretch?


Two hard-charging teams fill out the Class AA tournament locally, with Chartiers-Houston (winners of five of six) and Bentworth (eight of 10) taking on Steel Valley and Beaver, respectively.


I like the 11th-seeded Bucs to pull an upset here. No doubt Steel Valley is a good team. The Ironmen topped Greensburg Central Catholic for the Section 4-AA title. But give Chartiers-Houston ace Dylan Pounds one game, and I think you’re going to like the results.


More late-season hot streaks and quality pitching highlight Class AAA.


After losing five and six and looking lost at 5-7, South Fayette closed by winning five of its final six for a 10-8 record, tying Trinity for the final spot in Section 3-AAA.


There’s plenty of pitching there, too, with Zach Walker, Mike Fetchet and others. The Lions drew West Allegheny in the first round, a team they suffered a 4-0 loss to on April 5.


Trinity has a true ace in Nick Riotto (4-1) and a solid No. 2 starter in Don McWreath, should the Hillers get past Hampton (17-2) in the first round.


The team with perhaps the most momentum heading into the postseason?


That would be Canon-McMillan, winners of seven straight before a non-section loss to Hempfield on May 8.


At first glance, the Big Macs getting the No. 6 seed in Class AAAA appeared to be a slight – something Canon-Mac can seemingly sense a mile away. But take a closer look, and it’s a pretty decent draw.


Two-time defending champion Seneca Valley is the top seed … and on the other side of the bracket. Pine-Richland, which won it all in 2010, is also over there.


Canon-Mac faces Moon in the first round and a potential rematch with Hempfield in the quarterfinals.


Kevin Forrester (6-1) has provided the pitching, and there’s been no shortage of momentum with Canon-Mac, which has gotten big seasons from third baseman Frank Fortunato, first baseman Justin Davey and center fielder Brandon Kildare, among others.


Maybe that’s why head coach Frank Zebrasky isn’t exactly worried about the No. 6 seed.


“You’re going to face everyone’s best pitcher right away anyway,” Zebrasky said. “We weren’t getting the No. 1 seed, so you knew you were facing the No. 1 pitcher from somebody right away.”


If all goes well, and if the momentum continues, these teams will face a few other quality pitchers, too.



Jason Mackey can be reached at jmackey@observer-reporter.com


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