Norwin baseball star J.J. Matijevic wins WPIAL triple crown


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While California Chrome is one step away from horse racing's elusive Triple Crown, Norwin High School's J.J. Matijevic found out last week he already crossed the finish line and won a different kind of triple crown, although just as elusive.

Matijevic is WPIAL baseball's version of a rare thoroughbred, and it's questionable whether the WPIAL has ever seen a horse of such stature.

While the postseason didn't go well for Matijevic, he had a regular season for the ages. After all the statistics were tabulated, Matijevic finished on top of the WPIAL in one, two, three statistical races, earning WPIAL baseball's triple crown.

A 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior shortstop, Matijevic led the WPIAL in batting with a .607 average (34 of 56). He also led in home runs with 10 and RBIs with 37.

It is unknown whether anyone in the WPIAL has ever pulled off such a feat. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette baseball statistics go back a few decades. Before that, no media publication or the WPIAL kept statistical leaders. Put it this way: Matijevic is the first player known to have pulled off the WPIAL triple crown.

Matijevic's season ended Friday when Norwin lost to Plum, 2-1, in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs. Matijevic was disappointed after going 0 for 4 in the game. But two days earlier, he was beaming after learning of the triple crown through a Post-Gazette Twitter account.

"It was one of the best feelings ever seeing that tweet," Matijevic said. "I'm not on Twitter, but someone took a screen shot of that tweet and sent it to me. It was a great feeling."

Maybe winning a "triple crown" in baseball isn't the most publicized feat in WPIAL sports, but Matijevic (pronounced Mat-a-JEV-ick) admits he thought about it.

"I know what it is and I know Miguel Cabrera did it [in Major League Baseball] a few years ago," Matijevic said. "I never set it as a goal, but after seeing him do it, I thought maybe one day I could do it."

Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski wonders if people realize what a monumental feat it is at the WPIAL level.

"As good as he was this year, I was still surprised when I heard he won the triple crown," Liebdzinski said. "I said, 'You mean he just had the best batting average in Class AAAA?' I thought for sure someone in a lower classification would have had a better average."

Players have led the WPIAL in home runs and RBIs. It happened a few times in the past decade. But also having a high batting average is where the WPIAL power hitters often fall short.

Matijevic showed unusual power for a shortstop. At one point, he hit a home run in six consecutive games, believed to be a WPIAL record. It also tied Matijevic for the 12th-longest streak nationally, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations record book.

Mark Saghy is a highly-respected former coach of Mt. Lebanon High School who coaches some of the WPIAL's best players every summer on the Steel City Wildcats team of the Western Pennsylvania Elite Baseball League.

"I've seen Matijevic play probably 10 times and there is no question the kid has a legitimate big league swing," Saghy said. "If there is one kid who can change the complexity of the game from an offensive standpoint, it's him. And I could probably count on one hand how many kids around here in the past 20 years that you could say that about.

"I'm not saying he's [former Pine-Richland star] Neil Walker. I don't think he has that kind of projectability. But in the past 20 years around here, I'd put Matijevic in the top five offensive forces."

Matijevic signed with the University of Arizona. He made a verbal commitment to the Wildcats his junior year.

But there is a chance he never plays for Arizona. He could be taken in the MLB draft in a few weeks. But will he be taken high enough where he would sign with a team and skip college?

Matijevic said he will attend some pre-draft workouts with major league teams, but he seems guarded about his comments about the situation.

"From what I'm hearing, I think he is definitely going to get drafted, but it's just a matter of will they take him high enough to offset that [Arizona] scholarship," Liebdzinski said. "He has a pretty good scholarship to a good program. But I definitely think he will go somewhere in the draft."

He already has gone somewhere in WPIAL history.

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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