Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
WASHINGTON, Pa. —
A strong offense put the Ellwood City Lincoln High baseball program back on top of the WPIAL landscape.
Zach Mathias recorded three of the Wolverines’ 11 hits in a 9-7 WPIAL Class AA championship win over crosstown rival Riverside yesterday at Washington’s Consol Energy Park.
The win captures the fourth district title overall for Ellwood City and the first since 2003. The top-seeded Wolverines (21-2) won crowns in 1962, 2001 and 2003 prior to yesterday’s.
“It’s a great feeling; they played a great game,” Ellwood City coach Jeff Fotia said. “We made some mistakes and walked some people when we shouldn’t have, but we came out on the top end and that’s the main thing.”
Ellwood City, ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class AA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will square off against District 5 champion North Star on Monday at a time and site to be determined. North Star (16-4) claimed the District 5 title yesterday with a 3-0 win over Bedford.
The Wolverines defeated the section-rival Panthers yesterday for the second time this year. Ellwood City lost the first matchup, 1-0, before capturing the rematch and sealing a share of the Section crown, 13-3.
“As long as Ellwood and Riverside play, it’ll always be like this,” Fotia said of the rivalry. “They have guys who work hard; they have coaches who are good coaches and work hard.
“They are the same mold of kid. They are all original Ellwood people that just branched out.”
Riverside (18-6), ranked No. 3 by the Post-Gazette, will meet the District 8 or District 9 champion on Monday at a time and site to be determined. The Panthers came in as the defending WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champions.
“We didn’t play well. We gave them too many shots,” Riverside coach Dan Oliastro said. “Our kids bounced back. They are a good team. I suspect we might meet them again.
“Most of these kids are first-year players. Most of these players did get better as the year went on.”
Ellwood City grabbed a commanding early lead and gave most of it away for the second straight game. The Wolverines jumped on South Fayette 9-0 in the first couple of innings of the semifinals before holding on for a 14-11 win.
In the championship game, Ellwood City rolled to a 7-1 lead after two innings before the Panthers battled back. Riverside cut the deficit to 7-5 with a four-run third inning.
“We got that sense of urgency and knew we had to pull ourselves together and we always do,” Mathias said of his team holding the lead. “We have good confidence in each other and we have a good team.”
Said Fotia, “Just remember this — we’ve found a way to come back on top again. That’s all we care about. We need to correct some mistakes, but, hey, we’re WPIAL champs. That’s what it’s all about.”
Corey Belonzi’s one-out fielding error on a grounder by Matt Morella in the sixth helped ignite Ellwood City’s push for insurance. Morella took second on the play and Tanner Walsh ran for him. Walsh scored when Mathias followed with an RBI single and an 8-6 advantage.
Mathias had two singles, a double and an RBI.
Seth Mley then delivered an RBI double, plating courtesy runner Tony Joseph for a 9-6 buffer.
“Getting offensive production like this is good because our pitching carried us all year,” Fotia said. “The hitting started carrying us at the end. That’s good; just as long as someone is carrying us.”
DELIVERING ON THE HILL
Christian Kerns (11-2) picked up the win. Kerns went all seven innings, but not consecutively. Kerns allowed seven hits and seven runs — six earned — with four walks and no strikeouts.
“To be honest, not much was working at all,” Kerns said. “When they put it in play, my defense had my back the whole game.”
With two on and one out in the seventh, Fotia pulled Kerns and sent Anthony Carusone to the hill. But Carusone walked Ian Sutherland on five pitches and Fotia gave Carusone the hook and put Kerns back on the mound.
“There were so many nerves, especially when I came in and threw four balls,” Carusone said. “Kerns had to come back in and bail me out.”
Kerns walked Blaise McCarty to load the bases. Dylan Jones grounded into a fielder’s choice, scoring Tyler Falk to trim the deficit to 9-7. Kerns then got Belonzi to pop up to shallow right, and second baseman Greg Lynn drifted out and made the catch to seal the championship and start the celebration.
“Coming out here against our rival, I can’t explain the feeling,” Lynn said. “We love beating them and we love playing against them. They are a great opponent.”
Rob Hardy started for Riverside and took the loss. Hardy lasted just 1 1/3 innings, giving up three hits and five runs — one earned — with a walk and no strikeouts.
Mley, Lynn and Carusone all had two hits each for Ellwood City. Lynn and Carusone knocked in two runs apiece.