The core of this season's Central Catholic baseball team were sophomores when the Vikings sneaked into the WPIAL playoffs by winning their final four section games two years ago.
They were juniors last season when the Vikings were section co-champions and upset the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL quarterfinals before falling in the semifinals.
This season, the group is as seasoned as ever and has been trying to help the Vikings advance even further in the postseason.
Central Catholic (17-4), the No. 5 seed, was scheduled to play No. 4 Pine-Richland (16-4) in a WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal last night at North Allegheny after eliminating Penn-Trafford, 4-3, Monday in a first-round game.
Experience means a lot at this point of the season, and the Vikings, who have eight players who started on last year's team, have as much of it as just about any other team in the WPIAL.
"I think it comes in real big for us," said Central Catholic coach Frank LaCava, who is in his fifth season. "Our seniors, this is the third year they've been up on the varsity.
"The first year up, they lost to Seneca Valley in the first round. Then last year we made that run to the semifinals. These guys have so much confidence in themselves and in their teammates, and really believe they are going to do well."
Central Catholic, which won the Section 3 title with a 9-1 record, continued to do well Monday by defeating Penn-Trafford, 4-3, in a first-round game at CCAC-Boyce in Monroeville.
Junior Grant Gustic pitched six innings, allowing two earned runs and six hits to pick up the win, and senior Garrett Vrbanic pitched the final inning to earn the save. Junior Alex Baretta had a two-run single in the second and sophomore Dom DeRenzo had two of the team's six hits.
"It's always good to get the first win," LaCava said. "The first round is always tough."
While a lot of underclassmen came up big in the win, it's been a strong senior class that has been leading the team throughout the season. That group includes shortstop Cameron Balego, the team's leading hitter, and third baseman P.J. DeMeo, who has a knack for stepping up in the clutch.
Balego, a Walsh College recruit, is a three-year starter. He's batting .444 and fell a home run short of hitting for the cycle in Central Catholic's 9-8 section win against Franklin Regional on Apr. 15.
"He's one who really leads by example," LaCava said. "He's one who, any time he steps on the field, he's all business. He just plays the game very hard and his baseball IQ is one of the best I've seen in a long time."
DeMeo, who will play at Pitt next season, has a lot of pop in his bat. He leads the Vikings in RBIs and is just an excellent overall hitter. On three occasions, DeMeo has hit tying home runs with two outs in the seventh to send the game into extra innings.
"He's another one who loves to be challenged," LaCava said. "He's come up big, not just with his bat, but with the way he leads. He's come up in some big situations. He loves that pressure."
One underclassman who has stepped up is outfielder Luca Farina. He is second on the team in hitting and had the go-ahead two-run single to help the Vikings close section play with a victory against Baldwin.
Gustic, a right-hander, has been terrific on the mound. He improved to 8-0 with the win against Penn-Trafford and sported a 1.99 ERA entering the postseason.
"I knew Grant would come out and compete," LaCava said. "He worked real hard in the offseason. He's come up and pitched in some real big games for us."
The Vikings were hoping there will be more big games ahead.