It might sound cliché, but having a winning attitude is nearly essential for teams hoping to accomplish big things.
As has been the case the past couple of seasons, few teams personify that state of mind better than the South Fayette High School baseball team.
South Fayette's season came to an end a week ago when the Lions fell to defending champion Riverside in a PIAA Class AA quarterfinal, but what happened in that game and the 23 preceding it exemplified what this team -- and program, in general -- is all about.
"We're winners," said junior center fielder Mike Fetchet. "Going into every game, we expect to win. We came into the season expecting to win the section title. We knew we had the players, so if we played well we could win WPIALs and states."
The team's prophecy of winning the Section 1 title came to fruition when the Lions went 12-2 to finish in the top spot. It marked the third time in four seasons the Lions (16-8) had won at least a share of the section championship. It sent them to the WPIAL playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
South Fayette won a pair of games in the WPIAL playoffs -- against Steel Valley, 5-3, and Laurel, 12-4 -- before falling to Ellwood City, 14-11, in the semifinals. Finishing in the top four of the WPIAL vaulted the Lions into the PIAA playoffs, where they earned their first win since 2009 -- they reached the finals that season -- with a 5-4 victory against District 6 champion Mount Union. Then, in last Thursday's quarterfinals, the Lions fell to WPIAL runner-up Riverside, 5-4.
The Riverside defeat was especially tough, as South Fayette took a 4-0 lead in the first inning before eventually falling victim to a winning, two-run homer by Riverside's Tyler Falk in the sixth. Fetchet, who was the runner-up in the 160-pound weight class at the WPIAL Class AA wrestling championships, said his team was understandably upset at losing a game they seemed to have in hand.
"It was a real tough loss because we put ourselves in a position to win the game early," Fetchet said. "We made some mistakes and lost the game. Hats off to them for winning.
"After the game, [coach James Barton] said he was proud of us, but at the same time he said he's not satisfied with the loss. He preached from day one that if we made mistakes, it would come back and end up costing us, and it did."
If there was one word to describe this South Fayette team, it would be "scrappy." The winning attitude Barton helped instill in his players when he arrived five seasons ago might have been most apparent this season. The Lions fought back from early deficits to earn victories on multiple occasions, most notably in the playoffs.
Against Mount Union, South Fayette trailed, 4-1, after the first and eventually cut the deficit to 4-2 before scoring three times in the seventh to notch the win.
Against Ellwood City in the WPIAL semifinals, it looked like the 10-run rule would be enforced after South Fayette found themselves behind, 9-0, after two innings. But the Lions stormed back and had the winning run at the plate in the seventh before seeing their rally fall short.
"Give us another inning of baseball and I think we pull it out," Fetchet said.
Fetchet was one of the key hitters for the Lions, whose offense caught fire the second half of the regular season. The Lions won nine of their final 10 regular-season contests, scoring at least eight runs in all but one of those victories.
Among the other top players were senior catcher Chris Sarnowski and junior shortstop Aaron Fonner. Sophomore Zach Walker was the team's top pitcher.
South Fayette fielded only four seniors, so a young group, which includes Fetchet, Fonner, Walker and sophomore Jake Quattro, will help what should be another strong Lions team make the transition to Class AAA next season.
"I'm extremely excited," Fetchet said. "We have the potential to be a big threat in Triple-A as long as we come together."
First Published June 14, 2012 12:00 AM