WASHINGTON, Pa. —
The Neshannock High baseball team got a nice parting gift yesterday.
The Lancers, moving to WPIAL Class AA next year, claimed their second straight Class A district crown and fifth overall behind a strong pitching effort from Alex Strittmatter.
Strittmatter tossed a complete-game shutout, lifting Neshannock to a 5-0 win over California in the Class A championship game at Washington’s Consol Energy Park.
“It’s just amazing where we are, being here three years in a row and being able to win two of them,” Lancers coach Mike Kirkwood said. “It’s a feather in the cap for Neshannock’s program.”
The Lancers own WPIAL baseball championships in 1991, 2002, 2004 as well as each of the past two years.
“We’re always right there on the border every year between single-A and double-A,” Kirkwood said. “We knew we had an opportunity with guys back. Going to double-A, the last time we were in there five years ago we won the section title outright against Ellwood and Riverside. We feel we can be competitive no matter where we play.”
Top-seeded Neshannock (21-2), ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, moves on to play Bishop Guilfoyle on Monday at a time and site to be determined. Bishop Guilfoyle lost in the District 6 championship, 3-1, to Bishop McCort on Friday.
The Trojans (19-1), seeded second and ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class A by the Post-Gazette, will battle Bishop McCort on Monday at a time and site to be determined.
Yesterday’s outing was Strittmatter’s first since a complete-game win over Western Beaver on May 4. He was ejected from the Lancers’ quarterfinals win over Chartiers-Houston trying to score from third on a ground ball and forced to sit out the team’s semifinal win over Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
“I said, ‘welcome back’. He said, ‘I never went anywhere’. Yea, but now you’re on the field, you’re between the lines,” Kirkwood said of a conversation with Strittmatter. “He’s done a super, super job from his ninth-grade year to now. He’s been a competitor and I’ve watched a young boy grow into a man.
“I think what he was thinking and what he thought, being that I was still on the team and still cheering on the team and doing my part, even though I wasn’t out there, I was still part of the team. I didn’t go anywhere. My thoughts were, between the lines, you haven’t been out there. And I know, it really really fired him up and got him ready to go.”
It sure did. Strittmatter (8-0) allowed just five hits in seven innings with two walks and 10 strikeouts.
“Everything was working for me today, especially confidence in my team,” Strittmatter said. “I cranked up the velocity toward the end and they were having trouble catching up to it.”
“Strittmatter was just on his game today,” Trojans coach Don Hartman said. “We couldn’t solve him and that’s a credit to him.”
A senior, Strittmatter started on the mound in each of Neshannock’s last three WPIAL championship game appearances, earning complete-game wins in two of them. He lost in 2010 to Serra Catholic.
“I’ve been grateful to have that honor,” Strittmatter said of the starts in the title games. “I just kept thinking I’d rather be known as the pitcher who’s won two instead of losing two.
“It’s awesome. I’m very lucky. I’ve had some great opportunities in my high school career.”
California’s best chance to score came when it loaded the bases in the top of the fourth in a scoreless duel. Strittmatter quickly retired the first two batters and it looked like he would set down the Trojans in order. But Lancers shortstop John Sansone had a ground ball go through his legs to extend the inning.
Gavin Anderson delivered a single and Josh Luko walked to loaded the bases. However, Strittmatter got Patrick Tunney to ground out to Ernie Burkes at third to end the threat.
“I knew he was going to come up big; he had one of those saved up,” Strittmatter said of the error. “He’s done so much for us in four years that one error isn’t going to kill us.”
Said Sansone, “(Strittmatter) was definitely prepared, I’ll say that. We all were prepared.”
The Lancers got on the board against Trojans pitcher T.D. Conway in the bottom of the frame when Anthony Van Eman scored on right fielder Matt Bakewell’s dropped fly ball for a 1-0 lead.
“I think with us, we were trying to take away the outside part of the plate because we know (Conway) likes to go there,” Kirkwood said. “I don’t think we were nervous. I think it was almost a job-like mentality, like we were going to work. We really didn’t get excited; we didn’t get down.”
Sansone atoned for the rare error when he led off the fifth by driving a first-pitch Conway offering to the left-center gap for a triple. He scored on an RBI single by catcher Ryan Giangiuli. Sansone was intentionally walked twice and struck out his other official at-bat.
“It was nice to see a pitcher come after Sansone and compete against him,” Kirkwood said. “They put him on twice. But I guarantee you if you ask T.D. he’d want to pitch to him both times.
“He’s the leading hitter in the WPIAL two years in a row. That doesn’t happen by accident.”
Neshannock put the game away with a three-run sixth inning. Strittmatter set down California in the seventh 1-2-3, fanning the final two batters looking. When Tunney was punched out on three consecutive pitches, the Lancers all sprinted to the mound to pile on Strittmatter.
Strittmatter had two hits and a pair of RBIs. Van Eman added two hits and John Conglose knocked in two runs.
“It’s very special,” Conglose said of the championship. “Being a sophomore last year and being able to win it then, it just makes it that much sweeter to win it again, back to back.
“It was just another game. That’s what we’ve been saying all along. We had the experience and we were ready to go.”
Conway suffered the loss. He went six innings, giving up nine hits and five runs — four earned — with three walks and 10 strikeouts.
WASHINGTON, Pa. —
The Neshannock High baseball team got a nice parting gift yesterday.
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