Looking at the scene immediately after the final out of Mt. Lebanon's 3-2 win against North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals Monday, it would be difficult to tell that the Blue Devils still need one more victory to call themselves WPIAL champions.
The players swarmed to the mound and bounced up and down, and head coach Patt McCloskey received emotional high-fives and hugs near the dugout from friends and family.
To be fair, the Blue Devils will certainly be refocused on the task at hand by the time they face Seneca Valley in the WPIAL championship game at Consol Energy Park next Wednesday at 8 p.m. Monday's victory was the culmination of years of work by McCloskey, his staff and his players to return to the top of the WPIAL baseball heap.
"For these guys to come back and play a third straight playoff game, and play that well, I just can't put it into words right now," McCloskey said.
McCloskey, whose father Ed won one WPIAL and one PIAA championship as the Blue Devils' coach, took over the reins of the program in 2005. In just his second year, he guided Mt. Lebanon to a WPIAL championship and PIAA quarterfinals appearance.
The team had to replace 13 seniors who graduated that year, but, still, it would have been tough to fathom how much the Blue Devils would struggle over the next few years.
Between 2007 and 2011, the team made the WPIAL playoffs just once -- a 2009 first-round exit at the hands of Latrobe.
Last year, the playoffs appeared within reach, but four consecutive losses to end the season doomed Mt. Lebanon to another season of postseason spectating.
This year, the Blue Devils barely eked out a playoff spot as the third-place team out of Section 3-AAAA. Once they hit the postseason though, the Blue Devils' pitching and defense picked up. They allowed just two runs in each of their three playoff wins, including a 5-2 upset of previously undefeated Norwin in the second round.
Monday, sophomores Mike Duffy and Zack Bahm combined for 52/3 innings with no earned runs before Happ came on to get the save.
"It's funny because you overuse the cliché 'Game 7 of the World Series,' but we originally weren't going to start Mike today due to short rest," McCloskey said. "After we took some time, it was in the team's best interest to start him and use Zach second.
"Zach came in and threw hard. We wanted a guy who threw hard today so we brought in our two hardest throwers in relief."
While the Blue Devils have received key contributions up and down the lineup -- junior outfielder Brad Bekampis had the big hit Monday with a two-out, two-RBI single in the first inning -- the heart and soul of this Mt. Lebanon team is the 12 seniors who have grown up playing together.
"This means everything to us," senior outfielder Luke Hagy said. "There are 12 of us [seniors] and we're all best friends. It's like a family, actually. It just means so much. We've been together since like sixth grade and we've been working for this. To go out, senior year, playing in the WPIAL championship is just a great feeling."
After the semifinal victory over North Allegheny, McCloskey specifically pointed to his infield -- comprised of seniors first baseman Jack Faett, second baseman Patt Goff, shortstop Ian Happ and third baseman Anthony Paladino -- as the reason his team held on for the win.
The Blue Devils turned three key double plays to cut short North Allegheny rallies. The Tigers' only two runs scored on a throwing error by Happ, but it came on a difficult play where the shortstop didn't have much time to get the ball away.
"I may go 20 more years without having four infielders like this," McCloskey said. "Those four infielders have started for three years now and tonight they showed that. All four of them made great plays. Not good plays, but great plays."
When it looked like Monday's game may get delayed due to weather, the Mt. Lebanon seniors had an added incentive to try and get the game in: Their senior prom was scheduled for Tuesday night.
So they got to enjoy a night with their classmates, and did it as WPIAL finalists.
"I think we still would've enjoyed it if [the game] had gone the other way," Hagy said. "But it's definitely going to be a lot more fun now."hsbaseball
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SWernerPG