Playing nearly four hours away from home Tuesday, Shaler used the home run to blast its way into the PIAA final for the first time in 24 years.
Propelled by a season-high four home runs, WPIAL champion Shaler put on a power display in a 9-3 win against District 12 champ Bonner-Prendergast in a PIAA Class 5A semifinal at Hershey High School.
Derek Leas, Connor Hamrick, Brady Alexander and Max Saban homered for Shaler (22-4), which won its 10th game in a row. By doing so, the Titans advanced to the PIAA final for the third time. The Titans won their only title in 1980 and fell in the championship game in 1999.
“We had 18 home runs last year and I think maybe 10 this year,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said. “The home runs were a little bit down, but we hit a lot of balls hard today and a few left the yard.”
Leas, Hamrick and Alexander all homered as part of a four-run second inning. Hamrick hit a two-run homer and Leas and Alexander added solo shots, giving Shaler an early 4-0 lead. Colby McGuire knocked in a pair of runs with a single in fourth before Saban slugged a three-run homer in the sixth.
Senior ace Miguel Hugas picked up the win for Shaler, surrendering two runs and 11 hits in five innings. Hugas struck out four. Austin Cannon drove in a pair of runs for Bonner-Prendergast (17-8), including a solo homer that put his team on the board in the fourth. Irv Fisher added an RBI triple.
Shaler chose to pitch to Bonner-Prendergast star Kevin McGonigle, a potential first-round pick in July’s MLB Draft. That was a risky proposition considering McGonigle homered and had two hits against Bethel Park ace Evan Holewinski in the quarterfinals. Against Shaler, McGonigle went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk, but didn’t knock in or score any runs.
“The first inning they had a guy on third when he came up, so we put him on. The rest of the game we had a comfortable lead, so we went after him. But he’s the real deal,” Junker said.
• As usual, Mt. Lebanon pitchers were on point Tuesday, but it was the bats breaking out in a big way that propelled the WPIAL champion Blue Devils to a 7-2 win against District 3 winner Cedar Cliff (20-7) at Mount Aloysius. Mt. Lebanon (16-10), which started the season 0-8, advanced to the final for the first time since winning its only title 25 years ago. The Blue Devils will face District 12 champ Father Judge (24-2) in the final 4:30 p.m. Friday at Penn State. Father Judge defeated North Penn, 4-1, in Tuesday’s semifinals.
Against Cedar Cliff, Mt. Lebanon scored the first seven runs of the game to take a commanding lead. The run total was the highest in the postseason for the Blue Devils, who also pounded out 11 hits. Matt Delvaux had an RBI single and Nolan Smith a sacrifice fly in the first. A four-run fourth saw Jake Tinnemeyer and Tyler Smith hit run-scoring singles and Brock Stacy a two-run single to extend the advantage to 6-0. The Blue Devils then tacked on another run in the sixth on a fielder’s choice.
“We faced two exceptionally challenging pitchers the first two rounds that could throw multiple breaking balls for strikes. They were very good,” Mt. Lebanon coach Patt McCloskey said. “The pitcher today was more conventional. We were just more on it. I thought we had a great batting practice day. I thought if we were ever going to hit, today was going to be the day.”
Of course, Mt. Lebanon shined on the mound, as well. The Blue Devils haven’t surrendered more than two runs in any postseason game while giving up six runs total in those six games. Delvaux got the call to start Tuesday, and responded by pitching six innings, giving up two runs and four hits with six strikeouts. Both runs came in the sixth. Tyler Smith then struck out the side in the seventh to close the game.