It was only fitting that the Mt. Lebanon baseball team would face some major adversity in its final game of the season.

After starting their 2023 campaign with eight consecutive losses, the Blue Devils rebounded to earn the fifth seed in the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs, win their sixth district title in school history and advance to the PIAA championship.

For the first time this calendar year, however, a Mt. Lebanon rally came up just a little bit short Saturday at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in University Park, Pa.

Facing a three-run deficit against Philadelphia Catholic League champion Father Judge in the bottom of the seventh inning of the PIAA Class 6A championship, the Blue Devils rallied to load the bases and bring a potential winning run to the plate.

Mt Lebanon was unable to cash in and fell, 4-1, to the Crusaders (18-1), who captured their first state championship in school history.

“They’re the gold standard of the Mt. Lebanon program for being back-to-back WPIAL champions and overcoming the adversity they overcame,” said Mt. Lebanon coach Patt McCloskey, whose team won 16 of its final 19 games. “There will never be another team that will ever be thought of like them. I love them, and I couldn’t be prouder or happier for them.”

The Blue Devils played in their second PIAA title game in school history. McCloskey’s father, Ed, led Mt. Lebanon to its only PIAA championship victory in 1998 with a roster that included future Major League Baseball players Don Kelly, now the Pittsburgh Pirates bench coach, and Josh Wilson.

McCloskey said with the Major League and Division I talent his program has produced over the years, this team will remain special to him because of its ability to “focus on today.”

“The team was 0-8,” McCloskey said. “We just had to win one game at a time. Win a game, keep your season alive. Win another game, keep your season alive. Win another game, keep your season alive.

“That’s not something you hang a banner on, but you just demonstrated the greatest mental toughness in the history of Mt. Lebanon sports. What else do you want from a group of 22 16-year-olds? I love them.”

For much of Saturday, the game was dominated by two pitchers who might someday have a shot to be playing in Major League contests.

Mt. Lebanon (16-11) ace senior left-hander David Shields and Father Judge standout junior right-hander David Rodriquez battled through nearly seven sparkling innings.

Mt. Lebanon pitcher David Shields struck out eight in the PIAA Class 6A championship against Father Judge. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Shields, a Miami recruit, was the tough-luck loser, conceding two runs, one earned, in 6⅓ innings. He scattered six hits and walked two while striking out eight on 103 pitches.

“He’s given us a great outing every time,” said McCloskey of Shields, who no-hit North Allegheny in the WPIAL championship and fell to 5-2 on the season with 106 strikeouts in 67⅓ innings. “Just a couple of things went through. It’s baseball. If you’re in the state championship, the other team is good, too. They hit some balls well, credit to them. They had just enough offense.

“David competed, he battled his butt off,” McCloskey added. “Like he did every start of the year, David gave us a championship-level effort.”

A St. John’s recruit, Rodriguez picked up the complete-game victory. He struck out eight and allowed just seven hits, with no walks, on 110 pitches.

“It was a great battle,” McCloskey said. “Certainly some things didn’t go our way. It was just one of those days.”

It would be Mt. Lebanon, though, that struck first in the state-title game pitchers’ duel.

Designated hitter Matthew Delvaux, one of the Blue Devils’ 11 seniors, broke the scoreless game open with an RBI single in the bottom of the third, which scored Tyler Smith.

“In that game, with that quality of pitcher, any chance you have to score a run, he’s going,” said McCloskey of his decision to send Smith home on the play. “That was a no-brainer. That was any easy decision. We knew runs were going to be hard to come by.”

Delvaux, Shields and sophomore second baseman Brett Hamel each were 2 for 3 to lead the Blue Devils at the plate.

“We hit the ball better than the runs indicated, but that’s baseball,” McCloskey said.

Father Judge would respond and take a 2-1 lead it would not relinquish in the top of the fifth when catcher Anthony Jakeman drove in two runs with a double to left-center field off Shields.

The Crusaders tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh off Blue Devils reliever Tyler Smith.

Sean Smith hit an RBI single before Nick Shiffler scored on a passed ball to make the Father Judge lead, 4-1.

Shortstop Brooks Henderson was 3 for 4 with two runs scored to lead the Crusaders.

Mt. Lebanon would respond, however, with its season on the line in the bottom half of the seventh.

Shields and fellow senior Brock Stacy led off the inning with singles to give the Blue Devils life with runners on first and second and no outs.

Rodriquez would then strike out Mt. Lebanon’s Daniel Clevenger and Jacob Tinnemeyer before Hamel singled up the middle to load the bases and bring senior outfielder Tanner Donati to the plate as the potential game-winning run.

The Blue Devils season would come to an end when Donati flew out to Father Judge center fielder Richie Lee to end the game.

McCloskey said he told his team entering the inning that its approach would be “nobody is allowed to take a chance until you’re the tying run, everybody takes a strike until they’re the tying run.”

It was a plan that nearly worked to perfection.

McCloskey said he was proud of his team’s effort.

“We got two guys on early and just plugged away, plugged away, plugged away,” McCloskey said. “I liked our chances.”

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at