Most of the WPIAL's best baseball players will be ending their high school careers a few months from now, but two of the finest still have a way to go.
Blackhawk's Brendan McKay and Norwin's J.J. Matijevic have just begun their junior seasons, but already are considered among the WPIAL's top players and, perhaps, the best two overall.
They have put up outstanding numbers, and Division I college coaches have taken notice. Matijevic committed to defending national champion Arizona in December. McKay's constantly growing list of offers already includes Kentucky, Louisville and Virginia Tech.
McKay, a left-handed pitcher, went 9-1 with an 0.52 ERA with 98 strikeouts last season in leading Blackhawk to the WPIAL Class AAA title. He tossed a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts in the WPIAL championship game. That followed a fabulous freshman season in which he went 6-0.
"He has a chance to be the best kid we've ever had at Blackhawk," Cougars coach Bob Amalia said. "He's got a lot of God-given talent. He also has a calming demeanor. No stage is too big for him."
Maxpreps.com named McKay a sophomore All-American after last season. McKay also hit a team-best .416 with 13 extra-base hits.
Amalia thinks McKay could be even better this season after adding nearly 20 pounds in the offseason. He is now 6 feet 2, 210 pounds. Amalia said McKay's curveball is "at our level, almost unhittable."
"I wouldn't trade him for anyone in the WPIAL," said Amalia. "I would stack him against anyone in the WPIAL."
Matijevic, a shortstop, is coming off a breakout sophomore season when he developed into one of the WPIAL's premier hitters.He batted .500 with 6 home runs, 35 RBIs and 22 runs and also is excellent defensively.
Matijevic helped Norwin finish undefeated in the regular season and win the Class AAAA Section 2 title. The Knights were upset in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Norwin is one of the stronger teams in Class AAAA again this season. The Knights also return senior first baseman-outfielder Jake Pribanic, who has committed to Penn State.
McKay is Blackhawk's lone returning starter, but the Cougars have some promising juniors. Among them is catcher Jake Emge, the brother of former Blackhawk star catcher Matt Emge, now at Ohio State.
Two-time defending champion Seneca Valley has a chance to make history. Since the WPIAL moved to multiple baseball classifications in 1979, only Pine-Richland (2004-06) has won WPIAL championships three years in a row.
Seneca Valley, a combined 36-9-1 the past two seasons, appears to have the talent to three-peat.
Senior shortstop Sam Fragale is a Virginia Tech recruit. Fragale and senior outfielder Jon Dorogy were both named all-section last season. Senior pitcher Zack Spangler, a Kent State recruit, will anchor a pitching staff that lost ace Matt Smith to graduation.
Bethel Park has one of the strongest pitching staffs in the WPIAL.
A section champion last season, the Black Hawks feature three excellent senior pitchers -- James Madison-bound Logan Corrigan, Tyler Grashoff and Luc Cox. Grashoff went 6-0 as a junior.
Central Catholic has one of the WPIAL's top power hitters in senior infielder M.P. Buckley, who hit eight home runs and had 40 RBIs last regular season. Senior infielder P.J. DeMeo is a Pitt recruit.
City League teams are competing in the WPIAL this season. Five-time defending City League champion Allderdice was placed in Section 4. The Dragons should contend for a playoff spot and are led by senior shortstop Justin Zak.
Belle Vernon returns nearly all its starters from a WPIAL runner-up team. Among the top returnees are senior infielder-pitcher Dom Francia, senior outfielder-pitcher Adam Ferita, junior third baseman-pitcher Dylan Pietrantoni and senior shortstop Joe Simsic. Pietrantoni went 7-2 last season.
Hopewell is once again one of the top teams in the area. New coach Mike Shuleski will lean on the arm of senior hurler Stefan Mrkonja.
South Park will battle Belle Vernon for the Section 4 title. South Park will be led by two all-section players -- senior outfielder-pitcher Nick Yobbi and senior second baseman-pitcher Carter Grote.
Mars won a section title last season and should be good again with senior pitcher-infielder David Bednar, a Lafayette recruit.
Two-time defending PIAA champion Riverside headlines a very talented field in Section 5.
The Panthers, who became the first school to win four PIAA titles, are led by senior first baseman-pitcher Tyler Falk, senior pitcher Blaise McCarty and senior outfielder Ian Sutherland. McCarty was 6-2 in the regular season.
Just behind Riverside in Section 5 are two newcomers to Class AA: Beaver and Neshannock.
Beaver was a playoff team in Class AAA a season ago, while Neshannock was the Class A champion. Beaver has multiple starters back, including senior shortstop Austin Logan and senior catcher Ben Herstine.
Neshannock must replace three all-section players, but is expected to be strong once again.
Longtime Brownsville coach Scooter Roebuck's team could make a deep playoff run. The Falcons have one of the WPIAL's top pitchers in senior Tyler Spohn, who went 10-1 last season.
Shady Side Academy and Greensburg Central Catholic are teams to keep an eye on in Section 4. Shady Side Academy was a WPIAL semifinalist last season and brings back all-section honorees Paul McCullough, a senior infielder, and Chuckie Scales, a junior outfielder.
Riverview, which competed in Class AA last season, will ride the talent of ace pitcher Anthony Malky, a senior and Akron recruit. Malky went 6-2 with 85 strikeouts and a 0.94 ERA last season. He also hit .468.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart also has an excellent pitcher with senior Preston Falascino. The Chargers made it to the WPIAL semifinals last season.
WPIAL runner-up California and Carmichaels should run neck-and-neck in the Section 1 title race. California senior Josh Luko is one of the best pitchers in Class A.
Bishop Canevin has high hopes with the return of senior shortstop-pitcher Nico DiPaolo and senior first baseman Jim Dlugos.
(Last season's record)
WPIAL CLASS AAAA
1. Seneca Valley 18-5
2. Bethel Park 18-3
3. Central Catholic 17-5
4. North Allegheny 13-10
5. Hempfield 16-6
WPIAL CLASS AAA
1. Belle Vernon 19-6
2. Blackhawk 22-3
3. Hopewell 18-5
4. South Park 15-6
5. Mars 15-5
WPIAL CLASS AA
1. Riverside 22-6
2. Brownsville -6
3. Beaver 12-8
4. Neshannock 22-3
5. Shady Side Academy 17-4
WPIAL CLASS A
1. Riverview 11-8
2. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart18-7
3. California 19-2
4. Bishop Canevin 12-7
5. Western Beaver 11-9
PLAYERS TO WATCH
David Bednar, Mars, Sr., P-IF
M.P. Buckley, Central Catholic, Sr., IF
Logan Corrigan, Bethel Park, Sr., 1B-P
Justin Dattilo, North Allegheny, Sr., C
Joey DeFloria, Hempfield, Jr., OF
P.J. DeMeo, Central Catholic, Sr., IF
Tyler Falk, Riverside, Sr., P-1B
Sam Fragale, Seneca Valley, Sr., SS
Dom Francia, Belle Vernon, Sr., P-IF
Anthony Malky, Riverview, Sr., P
J.J. Matijevic, Norwin, Jr., SS
Blaise McCarty, Riverside, Sr., P
Brendan McKay, Blackhawk, Jr., P-OF
Sam Mersing, Montour, Sr., P
Jake Pribanic, Norwin, Sr., 1B-OF
Nick Riotto, Trinity, Sr., OF
Brandon Ritchie, Laurel, Sr., P-OF
Zack Spangler, Seneca Valley, Sr., P
Tyler Spohn, Brownsville, Sr., P-INF
Nick Yobbi, South Park, Sr., P-OFmobilehome - hsbaseball
First Published March 29, 2013 4:00 AM