North Hills defeats West Allegheny, makes long-awaited return to WPIAL title game
The long wait is over for the North Hills baseball program.
The Indians are going back to the WPIAL finals for the first time since 1974 by virtue of Thursday night’s 11-4 victory over West Allegheny before a large crowd at North Allegheny.
J.T. Mazula’s triple drove in two of North Hills’ three runs in the first inning, and the team erupted for six runs in the fifth to help secure a matchup against section rival Mars at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Washington’s Wild Things Park.
North Hills is now 19-3.
Winning pitcher Beau Braunlich helped himself with a double and single.
“We liked going with Beau tonight,” North Hills coach Randy Miller said. “He’s 5-0 for us this year. He’s been stellar, and he’s a nice left-hander here on the big mound at North Allegheny.”
“It was good to get the first couple of runs in there,” Mazula said about his big, early hit. “It eased the pressure off a little bit and gave us some breathing room.”
West Allegheny (13-2) is still alive. The Indians will face Hampton at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Washington & Jefferson’s Ross Memorial Stadium. The winner will get the third berth in the PIAA playoffs from the WPIAL.
In what was a key play in the bottom of the first inning, West Allegheny got a run back to trail 3-1, with two outs. Brandon Cooper hit a chopper to third. North Hills third baseman Garret Barto saw he didn’t have a play at first, spun around and saw Shea Downing rounding far off third. Downing was tagged out to end the frame.
“That was definitely a good decision made there,” Miller said of Barto. “We talk a lot about no play, no throw, give a fake. That was huge because they were looking to chip away. Things might not have turned out the same.”
The West Allegheny infield converted double plays in the third and fourth innings to keep the game temporarily close.
Braunlich held West Allegheny scoreless for the next three innings, setting the stage for the big North Hills fifth.
The Indians sent 10 batters to the plate as Alex Glatz’s two-run double, Steven Miller’s double and Jordan Pitchford’s triple off the right field fence proved to be the big hits.
“Hits are contagious, they keep on coming,” Mazula said. “Beau definitely had command on his fastball early, and when he figured out his curve ball and his slider, he really gained confidence.”
But West Allegheny, the four-time WPIAL champion and a finalist last year, wasn’t going away quietly.
Hendrick tripled home two runs and Downing singled home another to chase Braunlich and cut the North Hills lead to 9-4.
In the sixth, Barto led off with a double and Steven Miller followed with a single. Barto scored on a wild pitch and Miller on a throwing error to conclude the scoring.
“A quick summary is that we got beat by a better team tonight,” West Allegheny coach Bryan Cornell said. “We didn’t play our best game, we didn’t make the routine plays out there.”
In that 1974 title game, North Hills lost to Burrell at Three Rivers Stadium.
George Guido is a freelance writer.