The Riverside baseball team is trying to win a PIAA title without winning a WPIAL championship. It is a familiar path for the Panthers, and one that other WPIAL teams have traveled a number of times in recent years.
Riverside (21-6) meets Pine Grove (23-6) in the PIAA Class AA title game at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Penn State. A win will shove that WPIAL championship loss to Ellwood City to the back of the Riverside players' minds -- and put gold medals around their necks.
Riverside has won three previous PIAA titles, but this would be the second time in the past eight seasons the Panthers could end up as a state champion after losing a WPIAL title game. The other was 2005.
"I think both the WPIAL and state are important," said Riverside coach Dan Oliastro. "I think the WPIAL is important because it's been there for a long time and there has always been a lot of hype attached to it.
"But let's face it. You win the state title, that definitely has to have a little more impact."
Oliastro will tell you it is hard to win both the WPIAL and the PIAA titles in the same season -- and statistics prove him right. Since the PIAA went to at least three classifications in 1999, there have been 11 champions from the WPIAL. Seven did not win a WPIAL title.
Beside the '05 Riverside team, the other six are Serra ('11), Seneca Valley ('07), Moon ('02 and '01), Greensburg Central Catholic ('02) and North Allegheny ('00).
Since '99, the only teams to win both WPIAL and PIAA titles are Riverside ('11 and '06), Neshannock ('04) and Ellwood City ('03).
"It's hard to win both because there is so much hype for the WPIAL," Oliastro said. "You have to be careful that first [PIAA playoff] game after the WPIAL. Traditionally, a lot of teams get tripped up in that first game."
Two WPIAL champions (Seneca Valley and Ellwood City) lost in the first round of the PIAA playoffs this season.
In the previous 25 seasons of PIAA playoffs, 42 WPIAL teams have played in the title game, but 24 did not win the WPIAL.
"We brought up our 2005 team to this year's team and how they lost in the WPIAL final, but came back to win the state," Oliastro said.
Some might be surprised that Riverside has made the PIAA final because seven starters from last year graduated. This team plays a much different brand of baseball.
"Last year, that team had 27 home runs. This year, we have six," Oliastro said.
"Part of that is the new bats everyone has to use this year, but we've also had to play a lot more 'small ball' this year."
Riverside is the only WPIAL team in the PIAA baseball finals. It is the second time in the past three years only one WPIAL team made it to the finals.
Riverside will face a Pine Grove team that has scored 29 runs in three PIAA games.
Pine Grove, a District 11 school located in Schuylkill County, never has been to a PIAA baseball championship game, but shortstop Nick Todero, first baseman Ty Zimmerman and left fielder Kobe D'Agostino were members of Pine Grove's District 11 championship basketball team.
Neshannock is the only WPIAL team to reach the PIAA softball finals, and the Lancers (23-1) will play Warrior Run (24-2) in the Class AA final at 3 p.m. Friday at Penn State.
Youth will be served. Neshannock has one senior starter (pitcher Amanda Furst), and the Lancers start three freshmen and two sophomores.
Warrior Run, a District 4 school in Northumberland County, also has only one senior starter, shortstop Carisa Swartz.
Warrior Run is led by junior pitcher Taylor Parker, who has 231 strikeouts this season and 631 in her career. Parker has 11 career no-hitters, six this season.