Hopewell coach Morgan Singletary had some choice words for his team at points this season, many of which were directed toward his seven seniors. One of those moments came after the team was 15-run ruled by Central Valley on April 24. It was the team’s seventh loss in a row.
“Probably not anything you can put in the paper,” Singletary said with a laugh. “We put it on the seniors. We said, ‘Seniors, where are you going to take us?’”
The answer: To a WPIAL title and possibly even a PIAA title.
In what has been an improbable postseason run, to say the least, Hopewell, which needed a win in its final section game just to make the playoffs, will play for a berth in the PIAA Class 4A title game when the WPIAL champion Vikings (14-11) take on District 6 winner Bellefonte (18-5) in a semifinal Monday at First Commonwealth Field in Homer City.
So, a team that was once 4-9 overall and 2-5 in section play is in the state semifinals for just the second time in school history. The first came in 1986 when Hopewell won the championship. The Vikings will take a seven-game win streak into their game against Bellefonte, which is making its first semifinal appearance since winning its only title in 2016.
“I think that’s still coming up with the teams we’ve been playing,” Singletary said of opponents overlooking the Vikings. “It’s been great. All of the guys are having a good time. There’s no pressure on them. They’ve just been going out and having fun.”
At the forefront of those good times have been seniors Landon Fox, Ty Eberhardt, Lucas Arington, Stephen Slate, Greg Barlion, Sam Syrko and Zach Muzy. Fox (.320), Slate (.311) and Arington (.300) rank among the team’s best hitters, while Fox stands as the top pitcher with a 7-1 record, 2.69 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 54⅔ innings.
Hopewell, which won the WPIAL title as the No. 14 seed, continues to get timely hits in these playoffs. Junior Lucas Walton, who entered the game with just five RBIs the entire season, singled in a pair of runs to lift the Vikings to a big 4-2 upset of District 10 champ Cathedral Prep in the quarterfinals. The Ramblers entered the game with only one loss. Fox went 6⅓ innings, allowing two runs and six hits with six strikeouts. The Vikings will turn to either Fox or freshman Kingston Krotec to start against Bellefonte. Krotec fired a four-hit shutout in a 3-0 first-round win against Northern Lebanon.
Like Hopewell, Bellefonte also brings a seven-game win streak into the game. The Raiders have already eliminated a pair of WPIAL teams in the tournament, beating WPIAL runner-up Latrobe, 10-9, in the first round and WPIAL fourth-place finisher Indiana, 11-5, in the quarterfinals. Mount St. Mary’s recruit Dom Capperella went 2 for 4 with a home run and five RBIs against Latrobe. Capperella is hitting .375 and is also the team’s pitching ace, as he is 10-2 with a 3.46 ERA. However, Capperella was tagged for six runs by Latrobe and five by Indiana.
Bellefonte’s top player is Trevor Johnson, a junior outfielder and Duke commit. Johnson has been one of the best hitters in the state this spring, batting .543 with a state-leading 11 home runs and 30 RBIs. Of his 38 hits, 23 have been extra-base hits. He has seven homers in Bellefonte’s last eight games.
Two things pertaining to this Hopewell team remain the same heading into this contest: the fact that the Vikings are the underdog and the message Singletary has been relaying to his players.
“Just keep doing what you’re doing,” Singletary said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. Just keep the normal routine and keep doing the same thing.”
Much like Hopewell, few expected Mt. Lebanon to still be playing the second week of June, but the Blue Devils have remained red hot and are now a win away from reaching their first final since winning their only title in 1998.
It will be a showdown of district champions with identical streaks when WPIAL champ Mt. Lebanon (15-10) takes on District 3 winner Cedar Cliff (20-6) at Mount Aloysius College. Each team has won 12 of their last 13 games. Mt. Lebanon actually began the season 0-8. The Blue Devils are playing in their first semifinal since 2001.
Mt. Lebanon features one of the top pitchers in the state in junior left-hander David Shields, a University of Miami recruit who fired a no-hitter against North Allegheny in the WPIAL championship. Shields is 5-1 and has 98 strikeouts in 61 innings. Shields gave up only two hits and struck out 12 over 7⅔ innings, but picked up a no-decision as Mt. Lebanon registered a 5-2 win against Spring-Ford in the quarterfinals. Jake Tinnemeyer had three RBIs, including a two-run homer in the ninth.
This was almost a rematch of the WPIAL final, but Cedar Cliff nixed that idea by rallying to beat North Allegheny, 2-1, in the quarterfinals at Mount Aloysius. Ayden Frey hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth and winning pitcher Jordan Negley tossed a two-hitter in the complete-game win. Luke Minium (8-2, 1.65 ERA), Negley (5-2, 3.04) and Brady Wagner (4-0, 2.29) give the Colts several pitching options, while Cayden Bender leads the team with a .337 batting average and 22 RBIs. Cedar Cliff is making its second appearance in the semifinals after losing to Lampeter-Strasburg in that round in 2019.
Will Shaler pitch to Kevin McGonigle? That will be a burning question when the WPIAL champion Titans (21-4) square off against District 12 champion Bonner-Prendergast (17-7) at Hershey.
McGonigle is a talented senior shortstop who some are projecting to be selected in the first round of the upcoming MLB Draft. Two-time defending champion Bethel Park chose to pitch to McGonigle in Thursday’s quarterfinals, and McGonigle responded by going 3 for 3 with a home run and two RBIs while leading his team to a 3-1 win. McGonigle is having a big season, hitting .524 with six home runs and 22 RBIs. Junior Harry Carr has been the best pitcher this season for Bonner-Predergast. He improved to 5-0 after tossing six scoreless innings against Bethel Park.
After facing one of the WPIAL’s premier pitchers in the quarterfinals (Bethel Park’s Evan Holewinski), McGonigle and friends will likely have to square off against another in the semifinals. Shaler right-hander Miguel Hugas picked up a complete-game win in a 4-1 triumph against Penn-Trafford in the quarterfinals. Hugas is an Alabama recruit who is also expected to be taken in the MLB Draft. Hugas doubles as one of the top hitters in the district. Derek Leas is another strong pitching option for Shaler. Leas also knocked in a pair of runs against Penn-Trafford.
Shaler, which has won nine games in a row, is looking to advance to the championship for the third time. The Titans won a title in 1980 and finished as the runner-up in 1999. Bonner-Prendergast has never reached the final.
Two wins away from making some major history, WPIAL champion Riverside (23-0) will aim to keep its perfect season alive when it faces District 9 champion Punxsutawney (20-2) at Slippery Rock University. It’s the same park where Riverside beat District 10 winner Fairview, 9-3, in the quarterfinals.
Riverside, the only unbeaten team in the playoffs, can become the first WPIAL team to win a PIAA title with a perfect record. The last WPIAL team to reach the semifinals with an undefeated record was Elizabeth Forward in 2011, but the Warriors were eliminated in that round. Riverside coach Dan Oliastro, at the age of 79 and in his 55th season, has 694 career wins, most in WPIAL history.
Pitching continues to drive this Riverside team. The Panthers have surrendered a total of nine runs in five postseason games and have not given up more than six runs in any game this season. Sophomore right-hander and Duke recruit Christian Lucarelli allowed one run and four hits to go along with 11 strikeouts over five innings in picking up the win in the quarterfinals. He’s now 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA and has struck out 104 in 48⅔ innings. Surprisingly, Lucarelli actually ranks third on the team in wins. Ronnie Harper is 7-0 and Hunter Garvin 6-0. Garvin is also hitting .433 with four home runs and 25 RBIs.
Punxsutawney has been strong on the mound, as well. The Chucks allowed only one run in each of their PIAA wins and have given up more than five runs just once this season. Senior Jake Sikora is 7-1 with a 1.60 ERA and has 63 strikeouts in 39⅓ innings. He was the winning pitcher in a 9-1 triumph against WPIAL runner-up Neshannock in the first round. Freshman Nevin Day allowed one run and three hits while picking up the win in a 6-1 victory against Philipsburg-Osceola in the quarterfinals. Day leads the team with a .519 batting average and Sikora is hitting .396 with a team-best four home runs.
Riverside has reached the final four times and is 4-0 in championship games, its previous title coming in 2012. Punxsutawney won its only title in 2007.