For the first few weeks of the season, each of Mt. Lebanon’s opponents seemed like Goliath to the Blue Devils’ David.
The Blue Devils lost so much early on — their first eight games to be exact — that they were blue in the face.
“We stunk,” coach Patt McCloskey said.
But then something happened to Mt. Lebanon — they all of sudden couldn’t lose. Fast forward to Wednesday, and this one-time David amazingly found itself as Goliath, at the very top of the WPIAL mountain.
And wouldn’t you know, it was literally a David who took them there.
Sophomore left-hander David Shields was dazzling, needing only 71 pitches to fire a no-hitter and strike out nine to lead No. 5 Mt. Lebanon to a second consecutive title after defeating No. 2 North Allegheny, 4-0, in the WPIAL Class 6A championship at Wild Things Park.
It continued what has been a remarkable turnaround for Mt. Lebanon, which fell to 0-8 after losing to Central Catholic on April 10. Since then, the Blue Devils (13-10) have gone 13-2, the latest triumph giving them a sixth WPIAL title. The Blue Devils had gone 16 years without winning a district title, but have now done it in back-to-back seasons.
“It was just a matter of getting things to click,” Shields said. “There are some new guys on the team. We just couldn’t find it. Then we just got rolling and found our spark, and won like almost everything from there.”
Everything seemed to be clicking for Shields on Wednesday, as this “U” recruit (University of Miami) played a huge part in Mt. Lebanon capturing its giant “W.” Shields was masterful in his first start since throwing a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 2-1 quarterfinal win against Seneca Valley. He followed that up Wednesday by baffling North Allegheny hitters throughout. Shields walked one and hit two batters, but other than that was in full control.
“What was so good was that, the last couple of times out, David had really been winning on the strikeout,” McCloskey said. “I’m not naive enough to say he pitched to contact. That’s not his game. He has swing and miss stuff. But he just filled up the zone and that saved his pitch count. He threw a complete game on 71 pitches. That’s unheard of.”
And get this: Shields’ no-hitter wasn’t even the first in Mt. Lebanon WPIAL championship history. Chris Koutsavlis became the first player to throw a no-hitter at PNC Park when he lifted Mt. Lebanon to the Class 4A championship in 2002. Twenty-one years later, another Blue Devil has matched the feat.
That’s not to say there wasn’t an anxious moment, though. That came with two outs in the sixth when North Allegheny’s Spencer Barnett blooped a ball into center field in between a few Mt. Lebanon fielders that went off the glove of second baseman Brett Hamel. It was ruled an error.
“No matter how close or how far away it is from an error, I thought it was a hit. That’s just how my mind works. But they ruled it an error. That’s all that matters,” said Shields, who improved to 5-1 this season and has now whiffed 86 in 53⅓ innings.
Shields ended the sixth inning on a strikeout and fanned the first two hitters of the seventh before Anthony Varlotta popped up to right field to end the game. Shields tossed his hat high in the air and then found himself on the bottom of a dogpile after being mobbed by his teammates.
“It hasn’t really kicked in yet,” Shields said afterward. “The last pitch, I didn’t even go that crazy. It’s surreal. I’m sure it will kick in tomorrow, but nothing much right now to be honest.”
North Allegheny (16-7), the No. 2 seed, came up short in its quest of adding to its record eight WPIAL titles. Starter J.D. Costanzo allowed four runs (three earned), four hits and three hits in six innings. Constanzo, a West Virginia recruit, struck out six.
Mt. Lebanon struck for three runs in the second, and with the way Shields was pitching, that was more than enough. All of the damage in the second came with two outs. Jake Tinnemeyer singled home Nate Girod, who had singled just before him. And after Hamel was hit by a pitch, Tanner Donati tripled to drive in Tinnemeyer and Hamel to give the Blue Devils a 3-0 lead.
“I was sitting on a curveball,” Donati said. “I was just hoping to put a good swing on it.”
The Blue Devils added a fourth run in the fourth when Tinnemeyer scored on a North Allegheny error.
“[Having the lead] is so much better as a pitcher,” Shields said. “You don’t want to go out there 0-0 in the sixth inning. Your heart starts pounding. I’ll take one run to be honest. But to have that type of cushion was amazing.”
Amazing. That sums up the performance Shields delivered on the district’s biggest stage.
“People will say, ‘He’s great, he’s talented.’ But David is a mental giant, and that’s why he carries us,” McCloskey said. “It’s what he can do between his ears, not just the gifts he has out there. I couldn’t be happier for him.”