A school that had never claimed a PIAA playoff win prior to last year will take part in the semifinals for the first time Monday.

And while playing in the state semifinals is new for Indiana, it’s not a first for the team’s first-year coach.

Dan Petroff was the leading scorer and rebounder on the Punxsutawney basketball team that beat Penn Hills in the PIAA Class 4A semifinals in 1992. The Chucks went on to lose in the final to Steelton-Highspire, 58-49, at Hersheypark Arena. Among those in the crowd was Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, who was in his final season coaching the Detroit Pistons and a few months later would coach the original Dream Team to a gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Daly began his coaching career at Punxsutawney.

“I try to tell the kids, getting to the state finals is huge,” Petroff said. “Even after all these years, when I go back home, people still talk about that.”

People are talking a lot of baseball these days in Indiana. Indiana High School playing for a spot in the state final comes on the heels of the IUP baseball team reaching the NCAA Division II College World Series for the first time. The Crimson Hawks saw their memorable run end in the national semifinals. Indiana High School will look to avoid the same fate when the WPIAL runner-up Little Indians (15-10) take on District 3 third-place finisher Fleetwood (15-8) in a Class 4A semifinal 4 p.m. Monday at Governor’s Park in Bellefonte.

Petroff may be in his first season as head coach, but he’s no stranger to the program. He was an Indiana assistant from 1999-2005 and again from 2016-2023 under previous coach Bill Thompson, who guided the Little Indians to the PIAA playoffs for the first time last season. Petroff was a star player at Punxsutawney who was drafted by the California Angels in 1993 and spent a few seasons in the minor leagues.

Indiana, the No. 9 seed in the WPIAL playoffs, has bounced back from a tough defeat in the WPIAL championship that saw the Indians cough up a 5-1 fourth-inning lead on the way to suffering a 7-5 loss to North Catholic. The Little Indians blanked District 6 champion Bellefonte, 3-0, in the first round before scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to take down District 3 champion East Pennsboro, 6-5, in the quarterfinals. Mark Collinger drew a bases-loaded walk to give Indiana the walk-off win.

“I think that [North Catholic] game stung them really badly,” Petroff said. “We were really confident going into that game. Seeing them for a third time, we were ready. That loss hurt, and I’m still thinking about it. But they’ve responded.”

Ben Ryan leads Indiana in hitting, home runs and RBIs and is also one of the team’s top pitchers. He’s expected to get the start on the mound in Monday’s semifinal game against Fleetwood. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Pitching continues to fuel this Indiana team. The Little Indians have surrendered only six runs in five postseason wins, which includes shutouts against Blackhawk, Montour and Bellefonte. The pitching staff includes senior right-hander Ben Ryan and junior right-handers Ryan Okopal and Greg Minnick. Ryan is a Quinnipiac recruit and Minnick a Texas Tech recruit. Ryan tossed 5⅓ innings to pick up the win against Bellefonte, and Petroff said Ryan will likely start against Fleetwood.

“In 4A, I’d take our pitching staff over anybody in the state,” Petroff said. “We have five or six guys that we haven’t even used yet. We’re very deep.”

Ryan has also been a force offensively, leading the team in hitting (.417), home runs (6) and RBIs (24).

Fleetwood is like Indiana in that it is a newcomer to PIAA success. Before this season, Fleetwood’s only PIAA win came in 2008. The Tigers have two this postseason, though, and both triumphs have come against WPIAL opponents. They defeated WPIAL champion North Catholic, 3-2, in the first round prior to topping WPIAL third-place finisher Montour, 5-3, in the quarterfinals. Senior right-hander Liam Hilburt was the winning pitcher in both games (the first as a starter and second as a reliever) to improve to 9-1 on the season. Senior Dalton Young knocked in a run against North Catholic and two against Montour.

While Fleetwood tries to complete its WPIAL trifecta, Indiana seeks to enter more uncharted territory by reaching its first PIAA final.

“It would mean so much, not only to this team but to the community,” Petroff said. “This community has been the best at supporting its athletes, especially baseball. Even when we have to travel a little bit, we look up into the stands and see hundreds of people wearing red.”

Avonworth coach Jeff Bywalski talks to his team as they play against Riverside in the WPIAL Class 3A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 3A

And then there was one.

Avonworth, the only remaining WPIAL champion in these playoffs, will look to keep up its red-hot play while moving into the PIAA final for the first time when the Antelopes (17-9) take on District 9 champion Punxsutawney (17-3) at 4 p.m. Monday at 1st Commonwealth Field in Homer City.

Winners of eight games in a row, Avonworth is making its first appearance in the semifinals. Prior to this season, the Antelopes had just one PIAA win ever, and that was in the first round back in 1992. Avonworth has been working a lot of overtime in the postseason. After outlasting defending champion Riverside in 14 innings to win the WPIAL title, the Antelopes went nine innings to beat District 10 champ Fairview, 5-4, in the quarterfinals.

Sophomore Carson Franc pitched 6⅔ scoreless innings of relief to claim the win against Fairview, this after sophomore Cooper Scharding allowed one unearned run and two hits in six strong innings against Martinsburg Central in the first round. Another sophomore, Jack Dolan, delivered the winning RBI in the quarterfinals and is hitting .394 on the season.

Punxsutawney will try to finally get back to the final after losing in the semifinals each of the past two seasons, both times against the eventual champion (Martinsburg Central in 2022 and Riverside in 2023). The Chucks have been outstanding on the mound, surrendering two runs in four postseason games and 55 overall on the season. Sophomore Parker Stahlman tossed a four-hit shutout to end Riverside’s repeat bid in the first round. Stahlman is 7-0 with a 0.55 ERA. Sophomore Nevin Day is hitting .349, senior Cooper Hallman .340, and sophomore Maddox Hetrick .339. The Chucks, who beat South Allegheny, 4-1, in a rain-shortened quarterfinal win, last reached the final in 2007 when they won their only title.

Eden Christian’s Brady Hull continued his huge season by striking out 11 over five innings and collecting three RBIs in an 11-4 win against Avella in the PIAA Class 1A quarterfinals. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 1A

After being slowed down in the WPIAL final, Eden Christian has seen its bats come alive in the PIAA playoffs. But in order to get to the PIAA final, the Warriors will have to get past an opponent that has yet to give up a run in the playoffs.

Eden Christian (18-6) will try to advance to the PIAA final for the second time in four years when it faces Saegertown (20-3) at 3 p.m. Monday at Slippery Rock University. Eden Christian lost to Bishop Canevin in the WPIAL final, while Saegertown was defeated by West Middlesex in the District 10 title game. Both champions have since been eliminated, but the two runners-up remain.

Eden Christian, the PIAA runner-up in 2021, was limited to three runs in the WPIAL final but bounced back quickly by collecting six runs and 13 hits against Conemaugh Township in the first round and 11 runs and 13 hits against Avella in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Brady Hull has been on a tear, going 2 for 4 with two RBIs against Conemaugh Township and 3 for 5 with three RBIs against Avella. On the season, Hull is batting a team-best .515 with five home runs and 40 RBIs. Hull also picked up the win on the mound against Avella, giving up two runs (one earned) and two hits to go along with 11 strikeouts in five innings.

Saegertown finally finds itself in the semifinals after going 0-6 in quarterfinal games prior to this season. The Panthers broke through by beating Bishop Carroll in last Thursday’s quarterfinals. Pitching has fueled Saegertown in these playoffs, as the Panthers have blanked both of their opponents — Bishop Canevin, 8-0, and Bishop Carroll, 11-0. Sophomore William Shaffer tossed a two-hit shutout against Canevin and freshman Blake Burchill gave up only two hits in the five-inning win against Bishop Carroll. Junior DeMarcus Manning collected a total of seven RBIs to give him 26 on the season. Burchill leads the team with a .569 batting average and 31 RBIs.

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

Brad Everett

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