In what has become commonplace following wins this season, Indiana players and coaches got a little physical with one another after congregating in right field after their latest win.

No need for alarm, though. Monday’s celebratory mosh pit, much like the ones that came before it, was all in good fun.

“Boys get rowdy when they win,” senior Ben Ryan said. “We love to hype each other up. We just love to celebrate our big wins.”

And for Indiana, none had ever been bigger than the one it grabbed Monday.

Ryan pitched seven strong innings and all but one Indiana starter collected a hit as the Little Indians advanced to the PIAA final for the first time following a 10-3 win against Fleetwood in a Class 4A semifinal at Governor’s Park in Bellefonte.

WPIAL runner-up Indiana (16-10), which had never won a PIAA playoff game prior to last season and was making its first-ever appearance in the semifinals, will take on District 1 champion Holy Ghost Prep (15-8) in the final at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

“It feels great,” first-year Indiana coach Dan Petroff said. “These guys, I’ve said it all along, they deserved it. Today it was nine or 10 guys playing the game, but it was a 21-guy effort to get us here. Everybody contributed throughout the season, so it wasn’t just a nine-guy win. It was a 21-guy win. We expected to be here. We don’t feel underdogish at all. We’ve got some talented kids. We were ready to play today.”

Just because it was a well-rounded effort doesn’t mean there wasn’t a star. Ryan was that star, as the senior right-hander and Quinnipiac recruit allowed three runs (one earned), four hits and no walks while striking out nine in the complete-game win. Ryan threw 90 pitches. Indiana has an excellent and deep pitching staff, and Ryan was called upon to start over juniors Ryan Okopal (he leads the team in wins) and Greg Minnick (Texas Tech recruit). Ryan had tossed 5⅓ shutout innings on the same field to lead the Little Indians to a first-round win against Bellefonte a week earlier.

“Ben threw well the other day. I just figured, ‘Why not him again?’” Petroff explained. “The plan was three or four [innings] from him and three or four from [Okopal]. But Ben had his pitch count down. He was strong. We talked about it at the 60-pitch range, taking him out and keeping him for Thursday. But I was like, ‘Screw that.’ He deserved to finish the game out and I let him finish it out. We’ll have everybody else ready for Thursday.”

Fleetwood (15-9), the District 3 third-place finisher, eliminated WPIAL champion North Catholic and WPIAL third-place finisher Montour the last two rounds but was unable to complete a trifecta of wins against District 7 opponents. Ryan’s pitching was a big reason for that, but so was an Indiana offense that pounded out 10 runs and 13 hits, including six doubles.

No Indiana hitter has been hotter than sophomore Charlie Manzi, who tallied a pair of hits for his third multi-hit game of the PIAA playoffs. Manzi’s RBI single in the first off of Fleetwood starter Liam Hilburt gave Indiana a 1-0 lead. The Little Indians then loaded the bases with no outs in the second. Trevor Smith drew a free pass to bring in a run. And one out later, Ryan, Indiana’s leader in batting average, home runs and RBIs on the season, smacked a three-run double to increase the Indiana advantage to 5-0. That lead then soared to 7-0 an inning later when Ethan Shank and Tim Birch hit back-to-back run-scoring doubles. Hilburt, the winning pitcher for Fleetwood the last two rounds, was pulled in the third inning.

After managing only a single against Ryan the first three innings, Fleetwood’s offense came alive in the fourth when it scored three runs to trim the Indiana lead to 7-3. Dalton Young registered a two-run single and Hilbert an RBI single, but Ryan then stopped the damage by getting Wylie Loy to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“The pressure didn’t get to me at all. I just did my thing and got out of it,” Ryan recalled.

Ryan cruised after that, retiring Fleetwood in order in both the fifth and sixth innings before working around a hit batsman to close out the game in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Indiana got the three runs back in the fifth when it stretched its advantage to 10-3. Birch hit a sacrifice fly and Smith and Andrew McGee followed with RBI doubles.

Indiana got significant contributions from the bottom of the order, as 7-8-9 hitters Kadin Homer, Shank and Birch each finished with a pair of hits. 

“It’s awesome to see the bottom of our order come alive,” Ryan said. “We’ve been waiting for that all season.”

Well, this Indiana team had been waiting to make the state final not just all season, but forever, a big feat these Little Indians finally achieved Monday.

One can only imagine how wild that celebratory mosh pit could be should Indiana capture a first PIAA title later this week.

“It would be so meaningful and we’re ready to roll,” Ryan said of potentially winning a state title. “It’s been a dream to play in the state championship ever since we were freshmen. You work your tail off day in and day out and take it pitch by pitch, and it’s awesome to see this opportunity finally come.”

Class 3A

WPIAL champion Avonworth (18-9) set the tone early by scoring three runs in the first inning before going on to claim a spot in the final for the first time courtesy of a 5-3 win against District 9 champion Punxsutawney (17-4) at 1st Commonwealth Field in Homer City. Cooper Scharding had two hits and three RBIs for the Antelopes, who prior to this season had only one PIAA win all time. Scharding allowed one run in 2⅔ innings before being relieved by Jacob Hanny, who gave up two runs and five hits over the final 4⅓ innings. Mason Metz added three hits and Brandon Sapolsky had a pair of hits for Avonworth, which won its ninth consecutive game. Punxsutawney saw its season end in the semifinals for the third year in a row. The Chucks lost to the eventual PIAA champion the past two years, which bodes well for Avonworth when the Antelopes take on District 12 champion Neumann-Goretti (20-6) at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Class 1A

Josh Tilden’s three-run double highlighted a four-run fifth that propelled WPIAL runner-up Eden Christian (19-6) into the final for the second time in four years following a 7-5 win against District 10 runner-up Saegertown (20-4) at Slippery Rock University. Caleb Emswiler collected a pair of hits and Brady Hull scored two runs for Eden Christian, which has won seven of its past eight games. Noah Emswiler gave up two unearned runs and two hits in 4⅔ innings to pick up the win in relief of starter Enzo Natale. Brett Feldman drew a bases-loaded walk and Hull hit a sacrifice fly to stake Eden Christian to a 2-0 lead in the third. Saegertown scored three in the bottom of the third to go ahead, but Eden Christian took the lead for good in the fifth. Saegertown, which had shut out its two previous opponents, was looking to reach its first final. Eden Christian, also a finalist in 2021, will swing for its first title when it faces District 1 champion Faith Christian (22-0) at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

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