Observer-Reporter Athlete of the Week
Name: Josh Luko
Luko’s week: It took two days, but Luko efficiently pitched California to its sixth WPIAL Class A baseball title in a 6-1 win against Carmichaels. In a game that began Tuesday, but was suspended in the top of the fourth inning, Luko tossed a complete game with nine strikeouts and no walks.
It took the California University recruit 114 pitches over two days to make the Trojans, who improved to 20-0 with the victory at Consol Energy Park, only the sixth team to win a WPIAL title with a perfect record since the classifications were implemented in 1979.
Efficiency: Luko was California’s second starter in the pitching rotation a year ago, when the Trojans reached the PIAA Class A Semifinals. He went 5-2 with 42 strikeouts and a 3.60 earned run average as a junior. With the help of California head coach Nick Damico, he dramatically improved this season.
The senior right-handed pitcher finished with a 10-0 record, 60 strikeouts and two walks. The Trojans’ season ended in a 2-1 loss to Cranberry in a PIAA Class A first round. Luko also had two no-hitters, one of which came against Carmichaels.
“It’s been a great season,” Luko said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I was able to straighten out my mechanics this year, and it helped me throw a lot more strikes.”
He did just that when it mattered most. Of Luko’s 114 pitches in the WPIAL title victory over Carmichaels, 53 of them went for strikes. After allowing a run in the first inning, he retired 11 of 12 batters.
The velocity dropped on his fastball 5 miles per hour when pitching on four days rest between the WPIAL quarterfinals and semifinals, but the extra work did not affect Luko in the WPIAL title game.
“We found out he can,” Damico said following that victory. “When the going got tough in the WPIAL championship, he wanted it. He did well and has done well all season. He kept the ball low and threw a lot of strikes again.”
One might think splitting a game into two days would affect a pitcher’s momentum, but Luko did not worry over the circumstances. He returned Thursday to allow just four hits – none of which went for extra bases.
The Mikes had runners on first and third in the bottom of the sixth inning, but Luko ended the threat by striking out Joel Spishock. He allowed a lead-off single in the seventh before retiring three straight to end the game.
“It was an exciting game,” Luko said. “I can’t really find any words to describe it. “Playing against Carmichaels in the championship game just made it that much bigger.”
Future Vulcan: Luko credits weight lifting to the improvement of his fastball, but he is not ready to be complacent. He plans on adding more velocity to make an impact at California University.
“I hope to gain a little more speed because I don’t think throwing as fast as I do now would be good enough,” Luko said.
For now, he will revel in the WPIAL Championship, despite the agonizing 48 hour wait it took to clinch the victory.
“It was tiring,” he said. “Those two days could not have gone by any slower.”
Compiled by Lance Lysowski