High School Baseball: Programs finding new success

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If the WPIAL baseball playoffs had a theme so far, it might be, this is the postseason for the new guys.

The WPIAL semifinals are today and they include teams that are most certainly familiar to postseason success. Nine of the 16 teams in the semifinals have won a WPIAL title in the past 10 years.

But the semifinals also include a number of teams that are enjoying newfound playoff success. The new guys are showing up everywhere as all four classes have at least one semifinal team that has never been to a WPIAL championship. Some have never been to the semifinals.

• In Class AAAA, Hempfield is trying to make the championship for the first time in school history. "I don't know if this school has ever been to the semifinals," Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said.

• In Class AAA, Keystone Oaks is trying to make the championship for the first time.

• In Class AA, Quaker Valley has made it to the WPIAL title game only once, and that was 29 years ago. Also, Deer Lakes has never been to a championship.

• In Class A, Western Beaver has made it to the title game only once before and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has never made it to a championship.

Suffice it to say there is new blood in the semifinals.

"This has been a long time in coming," Keystone Oaks coach Scott Crimone said. "This is my sixth year [as coach] and we started pretty much from scratch. We had to rebuild pretty much the entire program. But I remember seeing this group at summer camps when they were young. I thought they could be a loaded class and when they were juniors and seniors I thought they could do some damage in the playoffs."

Buzzard said: "I can't speak for the others, but from our end we've been to the playoffs five of the last six years, but we just haven't gotten over the hump of getting to the semifinals. Now we finally have.'

Crimone, 35, and Buzzard, 31, have turned around programs at their alma maters.

"We talked about three things -- hard work, discipline and respect," Crimone said. "We had to put that in first. Once we got guys to go all in with that, that's when we started to accumulate the talent."

Buzzard said: "It has just been about improving a little more in certain areas. Plus, we really increased the expectations level. We put high expectations on the kids. We also made it a priority for offseason workouts, and it's given the players more confidence when the season starts, so they believe a little more."

But having talented players also helps a great deal in turning around a program. For example, Keystone Oaks features Jared Skolnicki, who has an 8-0 record this season and has allowed only three runs.

The other "new guys" in the semifinals also have done some notable things this season. Quaker Valley is one only two undefeated teams in the WPIAL (South Park is the other). Western Beaver and OLSH both have strong hitting teams.

"We preach all the time to the kids that if you treat the game right, eventually the game will treat you right," Crimone said.

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For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.


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