Washington High School head baseball coach Rocky Plassio is not one to overreact to his team’s growing pains.
When the Prexies lost to Section 2-AA rival Brownsville, 6-5, in an extra-inning game April 22, Plassio saw the disappointment in Wash High’s dugout. The loss was the Prexies’ second of the season to Brownsville and gave the Falcons an edge in the battle for a section title.
The players expected Plassio to be just as discouraged, but his message was refreshing for a team with only three seniors: “I know it’s hard to see right now, but I promise we will be better from it.”
Plassio had a different reaction April 5, when Wash High lost to Waynesburg, 3-0, at the Consol Energy Classic. It was the Prexies’ third loss in five games to start the season, and Plassio thought the team was heading in the wrong direction.
Key players were pulled aside to remind them leadership was needed if Wash High was going to reach the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years and, more important, a fourth section title in eight years.
“That was huge because before that, we didn’t have much leadership,” junior pitcher Jonathan Spina said. “After that, he told us it was going to have to be some of the leaders on the team, and we took the job seriously and started playing well.”
The Prexies responded by winning 12 of their next 13 games – with the only loss coming to Brownsville – and clinching the Section 2-AA title with a 4-1 win over Chartiers-Houston Tuesday. It was the first section title the program had won outright since 2010.
With the regular season completed, the Prexies will learn their playoff fate today, when the WPIAL releases the baseball playoff pairings. Wash High is expected to receive the fourth or fifth seed in the Class AA bracket, and Plassio does not want his players to settle for a section title.
“They have to embrace that and decide if they want to be the group to change the culture,” Plassio said. “Anytime you win a section championship, it’s a great accomplishment, but they can’t be happy with that. They need to be the group to pave the way for bigger and better things to come. I feel really good about the kids.”
After losing three players from last season’s playoff team, Wash High’s lineup had some questions. Could Spina continue to develop into the Prexies top pitcher? Would Wash High’s eight freshmen fill roles? Finally, would the team receive enough production at the top of the batting order? Plassio stressed a “small ball” approach with strong defense, sacrificing players into scoring position, and his team responded.
Spina started the season with a 1-2 record. The junior bounced back with six straight victories to finish the regular season with a 7-2 record, a 1.35 ERA, 45 strikeouts and just 11 walks.
Players such as Chris Gouin, Jordan West and Jordan Mooney developed into steady offensive players. Gouin, Wash High’s leadoff hitter, led the team with a .481 batting average, a .622 on-base percentage and 19 runs. West hit .381 with 14 RBI and Mooney hit .344 with a team-leading 17 RBI.
Freshman Connor Bedillion started every game and hit .341 with 10 RBI and did not allow an earned run in nine innings pitched.
Gouin has been pivotal as the Prexies’ first hitter in the order and as a sophomore, embraced the role.
“Batting leadoff, my mindset is to see pitches and work the count,” Gouin said. “Get on base any way I can, whether it’s on an error or a walk. You set the tempo for the game so that’s important.”
Wash High might not be the most playoff-tested team, but they field an athletic lineup that plays solid defense and has four different pitchers Plassio can turn to in Spina, Lincoln Key, Kevin Patterson and Bedillion.
“We’re not going to stress over (who we’ll be playing) because it’s completely out of our control,” Spina said. “To win a WPIAL title, you have to beat the best teams anyway, so we’re ready for anything.”