Bob Amalia calls sophomore pitcher Brendan McKay his "horse." The biggest question Amalia faces heading into the PIAA semifinals is how much should Blackhawk ride McKay?
Blackhawk (22-2) will play West York (21-4) Monday afternoon in a Class AAA semifinal. A win would put Blackhawk into the PIAA final for the first time.
McKay, a left-hander, is 9-1 and has allowed only one run in the past 37 innings. He pitched a five-hitter and struck out 12 in a victory against Thomas Jefferson Thursday, and if Amalia calls on McKay for the semifinal game, McKay would be pitching on only three days rest.
Should Amalia start McKay, or try to save him if Blackhawk gets to the title game?
"He threw 105 pitches [against Thomas Jefferson]," Amalia said. "We'll see how he feels, but I've learned some things being in this situation before. What I've learned is if your horse is able to go, you go with him. If he tells you 'I'm good,' then you go with him."
Amalia tells a story of how in the 2003 PIAA semifinals, he decided to start his No. 2 pitcher, Mike Burger. Blackhawk fell behind, 3-0, when Amalia brought in his ace, Robert Jones, who had pitched only a few days earlier. Jones didn't give up a run the rest of the way and Blackhawk lost to Ellwood City, 3-2.
But McKay is only a sophomore and hasn't pitched on three days rest this season. He has won three postseason games, but has had at least a week's rest before each of those games.
Blackhawk has a quality No. 2 pitcher, though, in Adam Rousseau, who is 8-0 with a 0.29 ERA. Amalia has confidence in Rousseau, but McKay is clearly the ace.
"Adam is a very good pitcher, obviously. Just look at his statistics," Amalia said. "But we'll see. I think 99 percent of people would come back with their ace. We'll have to see how he feels and that will be the bottom line. Knowing Brendan, he'll probably want the ball."
West York also has an ace in senior Kaden Hepler, a Winthrop University recruit who is 12-0 with an ERA below 1.00. But Hepler also pitched all seven innings in Thursday's quarterfinal.
No matter who pitches for Blackhawk, the Cougars will face a West York team that is big on stolen bases. West York has 121 stolen bases in 25 games and had 13 in one game. Brandon Rauhauser leads with 29 steals.
West York, however, did not have a stolen base in Thursday's quarterfinal game against Belle Vernon.
When Belle Vernon lost to West York, 6-2, in the quarterfinals, Belle Vernon was without coach Dan Palm, two of his assistants and catcher Parker Lynn. They were ejected after a benches-clearing fight in Monday's first-round game against Punxsutawney. Under PIAA rules, ejected players and coaches are ineligible for the following game.
Terry Smith is Gateway High School's athletic director and football coach, but he said he might have to look for a new job if the Gateway district approves proposed budget cuts.
In Gateway's preliminary budget proposal, Smith said his AD job would become part time, his salary would be cut and all Gateway middle school sports (seventh and eighth grade) would be eliminated. Also, Smith said another part of the proposal is to cut the athletics secretary position to part time, and eliminate a facilities/site manager, which is essentially an assistant athletic director.
"If it passes, I'll be on the market for a new job," Smith said. "I think the major thing in this is the proposal to eliminate middle school sports, which is going to affect over 600 kids. In the long term, that will affect the high school programs.
"I've seen some schools where middle school sports are eliminated, and in two to three years, you see an effect on the high school teams. And most of those high school teams haven't recovered."
The Gateway school board could approve the new budget at a June 27 meeting.
"The middle schools make up one-third of our athletes in the district, but yet they want to eliminate two-thirds of the personnel that run the athletic department," Smith said.
The top baseball players in the WPIAL will play in the WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association all-star games today at the Burkett Complex in Robinson. The Class A vs. AA game will begin at 1 p.m., followed by the Class AAA vs. AAAA game.
When asked recently about recruits from the WPIAL, Kent State baseball coach Scott Stricklin said, "We have one this year and he has the best name in all of baseball. Zarley Zalewski."
Zalewski is a Valley High School senior who was taken by the Pirates in the 40th and final round of the Major League Baseball draft. Before Zalewski was born, his parents wanted to come up with a first name that began with Z, but didn't want Zachary because too many people are named Zachary. So they named their son Zarley after former Penguins player Zarley Zalapski.