Lately, Bishop Canevin has been known for its athletic prowess in football and basketball, with several WPIAL championship mementos filling up the school’s ever-growing trophy case in recent years.
Well, when it comes to the baseball postseason, they say pitching wins championships — and the way Tyler Maddix and Kole Olszewski are dealing right now, the Crusaders could soon be making room for more hardware.
It’s still early of course, and Canevin is far from the championship favorite in Class 1A. The Crusaders (10-3, 10-2) finished second in Section 3, just behind Eden Christian, and two-time defending champion Union will be a popular pick to complete its quest for a WPIAL championship three-peat. But there’s something to be said for getting hot at the right time, and Canevin has certainly done that after an 0-2 start to the season, winning 10 of its last 11 games and outscoring opponents, 83-2, during its current six-game win streak.
“Tyler is just a natural player. He just does everything really, really well,” Crusaders coach Bill Varley said. “Kole is a little bit more of an athlete. He gets it done with his athletic ability.”
If Olszewski’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s also a standout quarterback who passed for more than 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns for Canevin in the fall while leading the Crusaders on back-to-back trips to the WPIAL championship game in his first two seasons — including a WPIAL Class 1A title as a freshman. Turns out, his rocket of a right arm is good for more than just throwing spirals on the gridiron, as the multi-sport standout has proven to be a talented two-way player on the diamond as well.
Through the team’s first 13 games this season, Olszewski owns a record of 5-2 with a 2.50 ERA and 60 strikeouts to 16 walks in 33 2/3 innings. He’s also batting .395 with 4 doubles, 15 RBIs and 16 runs scored while playing center field when he’s not on the hill.
“We’re hot right now, so I really feel like we’ll have a good run,” Olszewski said about his team’s playoff chances. “This year, we want to make noise, and I feel like we have the team to do it.”
Sounds like a pretty good resume for a starting pitcher, right? Well, what if I told you Canevin has another ace with an even more impressive stat sheet?
It’s one thing to strike out nearly two batters per inning like Olszewski has this year, but sophomore southpaw Tyler Maddix is taking things to another level so far. Through 31 innings pitched, Maddix is 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA and an absurd 73 strikeouts to 22 walks — giving him an average of 2.35 punchouts per inning, or 16.5 per seven innings. To put it in proper context, not even the most unhittable softball pitchers are striking out batters at such an alarming rate as Maddix is this year.
On top of that, Maddix is hitting .465 while leading the team in several statistical categories, including doubles (5), triples (3), homers (1) and RBIs (21), and he ranks second with 17 runs scored. Needless to say, there haven’t been many more impactful players in all of Class 1A than Maddix and Olszewski — and the Crusaders are reaping the rewards during their six-game winning streak.
“I feel like it’s been a great challenge, and I feel like we’ve stepped up to it,” said Maddix, son of former North Allegheny coach Andy Maddix. “It’s a competition [with Olszewski], but we really just motivate each other to do better.”
Both Maddix and Olszewski took over as the team’s top two starting pitchers from the moment they arrived at Canevin as freshmen last year, and although they battled some expected nerves and first-year jitters, they managed to propel the Crusaders to a winning season and a playoff berth while the team finished 7-6 overall. Still, the first-round playoff exit after a 13-7 defeat against Riverview did not sit well with them, and they are both eager to get their first taste of a postseason victory.
“Being freshmen, it was new to them, and they definitely went through the learning curve, but both of those guys are really smart kids and good athletes who train hard, so they were ready for it,” Varley said. “I kind of put a challenge to them to throw more strikes this year and try to get deeper into games, and they wanted to have more responsibility with what they’re throwing. … It will be interesting to see how they perform this year in the playoffs.”
Although the pair of aces are certainly the driving forces behind the team’s success, it is important to note that they aren’t the only players enjoying big seasons for Canevin. With junior third baseman Mason Glover, junior catcher Quentin White and junior shortstop Dominic Varley all putting up solid numbers, the Crusaders’ one-two punch on the mound is receiving plenty of run support lately.
Glover is batting a team-high .565 with 3 doubles, 11 RBIs and 15 runs in only nine games, while Varley is batting .393 with 4 doubles, a triple and a team-leading 22 runs scored. White has been a pleasant surprise for the Crusaders in his first year of high school baseball, stepping right in as the team’s starting catcher and calling pitches for Maddix and Olszewski like a seasoned veteran. Oh, and he’s also batting an even .400 with 15 RBIs.
“[White] never played before, but he decided he wanted to go out this year, and he’s done a really great job calling pitches,” Varley said. “He’s taken on the role really well.”
With the WPIAL tournament set to begin on Monday, Canevin is in position to earn a potential top-five seed in the Class 1A bracket, which would set the Crusaders up nicely for a chance to string together a few wins and maybe even make a run at the championship game. Brackets will be revealed on Friday, but for now, Varley and his players aren’t looking too far ahead. After all, they know how fleeting the postseason can be, so they’re going to make sure to take the time to enjoy every moment this time around.
And if they don’t go all the way, so what? The Crusaders are one of the youngest teams in the WPIAL, with no seniors currently in the lineup and one of the most talented sophomore tandems in the area. The way they see it, this could be only the beginning of a special run over the next few years, so why not play with nothing to lose and see what happens?
“The last two years that we were in the playoffs, we were out in the first round,” Varley said. “We kind of celebrated just being in the playoffs. Now we’re kind of beyond that, and just getting ready for the next season here. It’s one of those things — you just don’t know what to expect.
“I think it’s just a little bit of everything. Timely hitting, defense, pitching and maybe a little bit of luck here and there.”