The North Allegheny baseball team boasts a productive offense with seven players batting better than .300.
But what makes this team truly special isn't offense.
Pitching has been the big story.
North Allegheny is back in familiar territory as the Tigers have reached the WPIAL quarterfinals for the 15th time in the past 16 seasons. The Tigers, who lost in the semifinals a season ago, defeated Norwin, 6-4, in a Class AAAA first-round game on Monday. The second-seeded Tigers (17-4) were scheduled to play No. 10 Plum (15-6) Wednesday at Shaler's Matulevic Field.
As has been the case throughout the season, North Allegheny was excellent on the mound against Norwin. Junior Jason Monper allowed two hits in 52/3 innings and the Tigers led, 6-2, before Norwin scored two late runs.
Offensively, North Allegheny was led by seniors J.T. Zeitler and Jim Divosevic, both of whom had two hits and an RBI.
North Allegheny is used to having excellent pitching staffs, but this season's group might be the best the Tigers have had in a number of years. The Tigers have posted five shutouts, have held 10 other opponents to three or fewer runs, and are allowing just 2.3 runs per game. Heading into the playoffs, the staff ERA stood at a stellar 1.62.
"In the six years I've been here, we've had some really good pitching staffs, but we've never [had an ERA] under two," coach Andy Maddix said. "One of the reasons our staff has been so good is that we have solid pitchers one through eight."
Monper and fellow junior Mitch Machi were the two primary starters in Section 1 play (North Allegheny finished 7-3 and in second place behind Seneca Valley). In the regular season, Machi was 4-0 with a 1.84 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 301/3 innings, while Monper was 4-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 26 innings.
"Those guys are like 1-A and 1-B," Maddix said. "They're very similar. Both are righties. Both don't throw overwhelmingly hard. Both throw three pitches for strikes. Both locate well. Both compete."
Senior James Meeker and junior Tyler Saundry are two other pitchers who have stood out. Meeker is 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA and Saundry is 3-1 with a 1.10 ERA.
The staff also includes Zeitler, Divosevic, Zach Woloszyk and Sean Fitzgerald, all seniors.
With that kind of pitching, North Allegheny typically doesn't need much offense, but the Tigers are more than capable of putting runs on the scoreboard, evidenced by the fact they average 6.7 per game.
Meeker, the No. 2 hitter, leads the Tigers in batting average, and No. 3 hitter Matt Waugaman, a senior, isn't far behind. A solid top five of the order also includes senior leadoff hitter Matt Bergstrom, Divosevic (the No. 4 hitter) and senior Justin Dattilo, who bats fifth.
North Allegheny is actually close to being undefeated, as all four of its losses have come by one run. The Tigers lost at Hampton, 2-1; at Fox Chapel, 4-3; and twice to Seneca Valley by scores of 3-2.
Maddix said that while all of the losses were tough, they might have helped this team get better in the long run.
"All four games were pretty similar," he said. "We left a lot of guys in scoring position and didn't make productive outs. We had opportunities early and late. I think it was a good lesson for us. Our kids see how important situational hitting is."
Now, in the most important time of the season, North Allegheny hopes to continue its strong play on the way to perhaps winning a WPIAL championship.
"Our expectations are to play well, and if we do, we'll advance," said Maddix. "This is a senior-led group and they got a taste [of playing in the playoffs] last year. They fully believe that they can go all the way."