North Allegheny third baseman James Meeker gets under a foul pop up as shortstop Brandon Bergstrom looks on in a 3-1 win against Hempfield in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
By Craig Meyer Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
North Allegheny coach Andy Maddix realized the importance of focus long before his team opened the PIAA baseball playoffs Monday. He made it a point to stress that to his players, too.
In short, he emphasized that one game could end the Tigers' promising playoff run.
It was quickly obvious that his message was well received.
Less than a week removed from winning the WPIAL Class AAAA championship, the Tigers (21-4), fueled by Matt Waugaman's two-run homer, scored three runs in the first inning en route to a 3-1 victory against Hempfield Monday at Shaler that advanced them to the PIAA quarterfinals.
"We put on our bulletin board to refocus -- you play in front of a lot of people the other night and you play a tough team and you get a big win," Maddix said.
"To refocus for this first round, we knew Hempfield was going to be a really good opponent and I'm really proud that we came through."
The early offensive outburst proved to be more than enough support for pitcher Jason Monper, who gave up just one run and four hits in seven innings. He struck out nine.
Waugaman entered the game in something of a slump, having not hit a home run for "a while," as Maddix put it.
With fellow senior James Meeker on first base, the left-handed batter turned on a pitch and sent it over the left-field wall to give the Tigers what proved to be the winning runs.
Though Monper was strong on the mound for much of the game, the Spartans (20-5) had chances in consecutive innings to alter the outcome, but were unable to do so. In the second, Hempfield failed to drive in runners from second and third. Then, after breaking through for a run in the third, it stranded runners at first and second.
The loss was the Spartans' third this season against the Tigers, and all three were decided by three runs or fewer.
"We had our chances -- we had second and third, we had chances in big spots with guys in scoring position," Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. "We just didn't get it done."
The challenges will continue for North Allegheny, which will face Seneca Valley, the team it beat for the WPIAL championship.
But, for at least one game, the Tigers avoided a letdown and extended their season.
"The WPIAL is so good that being able to run the gauntlet again is very hard to do, and I think history proves that out," Maddix said. "It's tough for the WPIAL teams."