Win or lose Thursday, Riverside will exit the PIAA championships with the most titles of any WPIAL team. The Panthers have won four of them. Only one other team (Bethel Park) has won three.

But if Riverside comes out on top, it will accomplish a feat never achieved by a WPIAL team — winning a PIAA title with an undefeated record.

For these Panthers, it would be the perfect end to a perfect season.

Guided by 79-year-old coach Dan Oliastro, Riverside (24-0) will shoot for perfection when it squares off against District 3 champion Camp Hill (21-3-1) in the PIAA Class 3A championship 1:30 p.m. at Penn State.

“It’s been an unreal experience,” sophomore ace Christian Lucarelli said. “Everyone is so determined and just playing loose. We’re having fun. It’s sad that it’s coming to an end, but we’ve worked hard for this, and I’m sure everyone is going to be determined to win.”

That includes Oliastro, who is in his 55th season and has a WPIAL-record 695 wins. Oliastro guided Riverside to a WPIAL title for a sixth time two weeks ago and will now try to add a fifth PIAA title to his amazing resume. The Panthers won their previous PIAA titles in 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2012. Oliastro distinctly remembers the first championship win. His starting pitcher, Curtis Brown, tossed the first no-hitter in PIAA championship history.

That team was great, going 24-2, but being on the verge of perfection is all new to these Panthers … not that their veteran coach has thought too much about it.

“It’s significant,” Oliastro said. “You just want to win a state title. That comes first. I knew this was something that not many teams have done, and I think the kids know that, too. They know more than me about what’s going on with Facebook and Twitter.”

No WPIAL team had ever reached the PIAA semifinals with a perfect record until Riverside changed that last week. The Panthers then earned a championship bid after rallying for an 8-5 win against Punxsutawney on Monday. The Panthers fell behind the Chucks, 3-0, in the first inning before scoring three runs in the fifth and five in the sixth to storm back. Darren McDade’s two-run double in the sixth put the Panthers ahead for good.

The big hits in the later stages of games have been a theme this postseason for the Panthers, who have become a much better hitting team than last season when they finished 17-7. Oliastro said he and his staff have coached this team harder than any of their squads in the past, the reasons being the need for more offense combined with the fact that the team features only five seniors. Four players are batting better than .400 for the Panthers, a quartet led by Ashton Schlosser, who is hitting .452. Mitch Garvin has a team-high 35 RBIs, while his brother, Hunter, leads the way with four home runs. Their father, Mike, was a starter on Oliastro’s first WPIAL championship team in 1996.

Lucarelli, a sophomore right-hander, or senior right-hander Ronnie Harper will start Thursday’s game. Lucarelli is a Duke recruit and one of the top sophomores in the state. He improved to 6-0 Monday after firing 5⅓ innings of scoreless relief. Lucarelli is averaging better than two strikeouts an inning this spring, fanning 109 in 54 innings. But Harper has been impressive, as well, despite lasting only two-thirds of an inning Monday. Harper (7-0) leads the Panthers in wins and sports a 1.49 ERA.

Camp Hill has won three PIAA titles, the most recent coming when it defeated Serra Catholic to claim the Class 1A title in 2009. The Colts also reigned supreme in 1999 and 2008. They have won 10 games in a row and both of their losses were by just a single run. In Tuesday’s semifinals, the Colts rallied from a 4-1 deficit by scoring three runs in the sixth and another on Dom Tozzi’s walk-off single with two outs in the seventh to beat Saucon Valley, 5-4.

Tozzi is hitting .379 with team highs of four home runs and 24 RBIs for Camp Hill, while Luke Parise is batting a team-best .492. Parise is a St. Joseph’s recruit who has also sparkled on the mound. He’s 9-0 with a 1.12 ERA and has 105 strikeouts in 63⅔ innings. Parise pitched a three-hit shutout in the quarterfinals and came on in relief Tuesday.

For Riverside, a perfect season would be nice, but winning a state title has always been the ultimate goal.

“Getting another one would definitely mean a lot,” Lucarelli said. “Every single person on this team, they want a ring so bad. It’s definitely going to mean a lot to [Oliastro]. He and the coaches have said they have never pushed a team harder than they’ve pushed us. We love them and they love us.”

Added Oliastro, “I trust them. We’re a good team. We’re resilient. If we play our game and let the chips fall where they may, I think we have a great shot at winning.”

Mt. Lebanon has played together as a team this season, just like when Tanner Donati caught the ball over top Brett Hamel to record the final out against North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class 6A championship May 31 at Wild Things Park. Mt. Lebanon won, 4-0. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 6A

A common talking point surrounding this Mt. Lebanon team is their 0-8 start to the season. It’s kind of hard to ignore considering the Blue Devils (16-10) rebounded to win a WPIAL title and will now try to win their second PIAA title when they take on Philadelphia Catholic League champion Father Judge (24-2) in the final 4:30 p.m. Friday at Penn State.

“It certainly made the state playoffs easier, having to hear all of that criticism those weeks,” Mt. Lebanon coach Patt McCloskey said. “It makes you more determined to win in a time of year when it’s difficult because you’ve graduated high school and are missing your summer trips. It’s not something I want to do again next year, but I couldn’t be prouder of the way the seniors have embraced the challenge.”

The team’s 11 seniors have helped Mt. Lebanon win 16 of its last 18 games, putting the Blue Devils in the final for the first time since winning their only title in 1998. McCloskey was a senior in college that year, but was on hand because his dad, Ed, was Mt. Lebanon’s coach. That Blue Devils team featured future MLB players Donnie Kelly and Josh Wilson.

This Mt. Lebanon team also boasts a player who could have a major league future. Left-hander David Shields is a Miami recruit who is considered one of the top junior pitchers in the state. Shields no-hit North Allegheny in the WPIAL championship and on the season is 5-1 with 98 strikeouts in 61 innings.

Offensively, the Blue Devils have had a slew of contributors. Among the biggest in the PIAA playoffs has been Jake Tinnemeyer, who hit a two-run homer in the ninth to close an extra-inning quarterfinal win and added an RBI and two runs scored in the semifinals.

Father Judge is appearing in its first PIAA final. The Crusaders have a star pitcher of their own in junior right-hander David Rodriguez, a St. John’s recruit who is 10-1 with a 0.99 ERA. Rodriguez tossed a nine-inning shutout in a 1-0 win against Central Bucks West in the quarterfinals. Teammate Nick Shiffler (.354, 3 HR, 17 RBIs) paces the offense. The Crusaders have won seven games in a row.

Mt. Lebanon will now try to put the finishing touches on what has been an amazing turnaround.

“It’s been 25 years since the program has been here,” McCloskey said. “We’ve won a couple of WPIAL’s, but winning states is the highest achievement. A lot of things have to go right for you to get here and fortunately a lot has. We’re hoping to play one more good game Friday.”

Elijah Muckle and his Shaler teammates are hoping the Titan bats continue to be hot in the PIAA Class 5A championship game Thursday. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 5A

Shaler coach Brian Junker has always had dreams of helping Shaler win a PIAA baseball title. A 1995 Shaler graduate, Junker was just a child when the Titans won their only title in 1980 and was a few years removed from high school when they last reached the final in 1999. Nearly a quarter century later, the Titans (22-4) will get another shot to win their second title when they face District 1 champion Strath Haven (22-4) in the final at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Penn State.

“It means everything,” Junker said of being a win away from a title. “When I took the job about 14 years ago, I probably said in the interview that I wanted to bring a state championship to Shaler.”

This Shaler team certainly has played like a champion throughout the season, a designation they officially earned by beating two-time defending PIAA champion Bethel Park in the WPIAL championship. The Titans have been especially good on the mound, allowing only seven runs in six postseason games. Senior right-hander and Alabama recruit Miguel Hugas is the ace, but he will be ineligible to pitch Thursday after throwing 63 pitches in Tuesday’s 9-3 semifinal win against Bonner-Prendergast. Junker said the Titans will turn to either senior right-hander Derek Leas or sophomore southpaw Colby Weber, both of whom have also had strong seasons. 

Shaler hopes its bats remain hot after belting a season-high four home runs Tuesday. Leas, Connor Hamrick, Brady Alexander and Max Saban all homered for the Titans. The power surge was a surprise considering Junker said the team had only about 10 home runs all season coming into the game.

Strath Haven doesn’t hit a lot of home runs either, but the Panthers still have plenty of offense, evidenced by them putting up 10 runs in the first round and 14 in the quarterfinals. The Panthers had never won a PIAA playoff game prior to this season, but advanced to the final courtesy of a 2-0 semifinal win against Greenscastle-Antrim on Tuesday. Senior lefty Alex Pak fired a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts to get the win. Pak has given up only three earned runs all season (all of them came in the district final), but he won’t be eligible to pitch Thursday. That means the Panthers will likely go with sophomore right-hander Luke D’Ancona, who earned the win against Selinsgrove in the quarterfinals. Sam Milligan (.417) and Pak (.353) are the top hitters.

It has been a dominant postseason for Shaler, which has outscored opponents, 43-7, while extending its winning streak to 10 games. If the Titans win an 11th in a row, they will be able to call themselves state champs just like they did in 1980. The 1999 runner-up team, by the way, featured star pitcher Ben Yeckel. Yeckel is now an assistant for the Titans and his son, also named Ben, is a freshman on the team.

“We’re not going up to Penn State just for fun,” Junker said. “We have to finish the job.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at