Neshannock senior pitcher Alex Strittmatter played virtually no role in the first two games of the Lancers' WPIAL playoff run. In the Class A championship game Wednesday night, he was all they needed.
Behind Strittmatter's complete-game shutout, Neshannock claimed its second consecutive WPIAL title, defeating California, 5-0.
Strittmatter, the Lancers' ace, was ejected from their first playoff game after a collision at home plate and was suspended from their semifinal, too.
Neshannock coach Mike Kirkwood said he told his ace, 'Welcome back' before the game, to which Strittmatter replied, 'I never went anywhere.'
"He was really, really itching to go," Kirkwood said. "We almost had to calm him down a little bit. It's almost like when you've got a horse in the stall and you want to calm him down before you open the gates."
Strittmatter struck out 10 and gave up five hits. It became clear early that runs would be at a premium. Neither team advanced a runner to third base until the third inning, and the game stayed scoreless through three.
"I'm pretty used to only giving up one or two runs a game," Strittmatter said. "It was just a matter of everybody making plays behind me, and they were."
The Lancers (21-2, 12-0) finally pushed across an unearned run in the fourth.
Anthony VanEman led off with a single, and scored after consecutive errors by the Trojans (19-1, 12-0). Strittmatter earned a two-out RBI when he drove a ground ball to California third baseman Ronald Baron.
Baron's throw pulled first baseman Sean Cotton off the bag, and VanEman scored from third.
Senior John Sansone, who will play at Florida State next season, led off the fifth with a triple and scored to give the Lancers insurance. They added three more in the sixth, thanks partially to a two-RBI single by John Conglose.
Strittmatter helped his own cause with a single and run scored, and Sansone finished 1 for 2 with two runs.
California pitcher T.D. Conway pitched six innings, allowing nine hits and striking out 10.
"T.D., he's in great shape, but he did throw a lot of pitches today -- more than normal -- just because we got ourselves in some situations," California coach Don Hartman said.
After the Lancers took the lead, Strittmatter went into cruise control. He allowed just one baserunner in the final three innings and struck out four of the last six batters.
"I start off all my games around 75 percent velocity. I like to turn it up when the batters are tired," he said.
"I did that, and I cranked it up at the end, and they were having trouble catching up to it."
Strittmatter also earned the win in the WPIAL title game last year. He was the loser, however, when Neshannock fell to Serra, 7-3, in the 2010 championship.
"I just kept thinking, I'd rather be known as the pitcher who won two instead of losing two," Strittmatter said.