It was a sizable progression. North Allegheny excelled at "small ball," Mitch Machi had a huge pitching performance and the Tigers advanced to the biggest game in the WPIAL.
North Allegheny defeated Hempfield, 3-0, in a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal Tuesday afternoon at Shaler's Matulevic Field to advance to a title game for the 14th time in the past 27 years.
North Allegheny (19-4) had six hits and all were singles. The Tigers successfully executed four sacrifice bunts and two led to runs. They scored once in the first inning against Hempfield's Zach Martinelli and added two in the seventh. Martinelli came in with a 5-0 record and had 18 strikeouts in a first-round game against Fox Chapel.
"We knew we were facing a guy who could shut us down. We knew how good he was," said North Allegheny coach Andy Maddix. "We knew if we had the chance to get runners in scoring position, every little thing would count.
"I can't say enough about these kids. They're an unselfish group and willing to do the little things that help a team win."
But the "small ball" concept is not new to North Allegheny. The Tigers evolved into this team as the season progressed because they don't have a star hitter or pitcher.
"After we lost the second time to Seneca Valley, 3-2, we made it a point of emphasis," Maddix said of the "small ball" idea. "In the long run, those two losses to Seneca helped us because we realized how important it was for us as a team to execute the little things."
Against Hempfield, it also is important that Machi pitches. He is a Spartan killer. He shut out Hempfield, 10-0, in the playoffs last year. He shut out the Spartans, 3-0, in the regular season this year.
And the Spartans were blanked again Tuesday, as Machi pitched a two-hitter. A junior right-hander, Machi wasn't overpowering, striking out three.
"If I didn't throw Mitch today, I would've been out-thinking myself," Maddix said. "I can't say enough about his performance today. He was fantastic.
"He has two or three different pitches he throws for strikes, he locates pitches, has movement and guys have a hard time squaring him up."
North Allegheny took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Brandon Bergstrom walked, moved to second on James Meeker's bunt and scored on Jim Divosevic's two-out single.
In the seventh, Meeker led off with a single and moved to second on No. 3 hitter Matt Waugaman's bunt. Justin Dattilo singled home Meeker and Dattilo moved to second on the throw home. J.T. Zeitler's second single of the game scored Dattilo.
"At the beginning of the year, we didn't do much small ball," Machi said. "But now that we're in the playoffs, you just have to get the ball in play."
And big things happen.