West Xtra: Blackhawk catcher enjoying his final run

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It's the little things that Matt Emge is going to miss ... things such as "Halo Night."

That's when members of the Blackhawk High School baseball team would gather at the Chippewa Township home of its senior catcher and play the popular video game.

"We set up four Xboxes [gaming systems] and have 16 guys play," Emge said. "And it gets competitive.

"We have a lot of fun together, on and off the field. I'm going to miss these guys. I'm going to miss the camaraderie we have."

Bound for Ohio State in the fall to continue his baseball career for the Buckeyes, Emge played a key role in the Cougars (20-2) capturing a Section 1-AAA title en route to making the WPIAL Class AAA championship game for the first time since 2007.

The Cougars will play Belle Vernon Area tonight at 7 in the title game at Consol Energy Park near Washington. That game had been scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed by inclement weather. Win or lose, their season will continue next week in the PIAA tournament.

"Most of the seniors have been playing together since eighth grade," said Emge, who will play for the 18-and-under Ohio Warhawks based out of Springfield, Ohio, this summer. "We've built up that camaraderie into a championship team.

"The camaraderie and the fact that the seniors brought a lot of experience is a big reason for our success. We won a lot of close games and that's because we know how to play as a team. We have a bunch of veterans who can pick one another up."

A 6-foot-2, 230-pound four-year starter, Emge batted .409 with five doubles, two home runs and 26 RBIs through Blackhawk's WPIAL semifinal victory, a 1-0, nine-inning affair against Thomas Jefferson last week. He also recorded an on-base percentage of .524 and picked off five base runners, defensively.

"Matt is an outstanding catcher," Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said. "He's a tremendous receiver, blocker and he calls a great game.

"He's a great hitter, but he's better defensively. When you move things around during scrimmages and bring in other catchers, you see it firsthand how valuable he is behind the plate. Sometimes you take it for granted how well he receives pitches."

Blackhawk (20-2) completed its regular season with a five-game winning streak and won the Section 1-AAA title with a 12-2 section record.

The Cougars advanced the Class AAA bracket and were awarded a first-round bye in the WPIAL playoffs before topping both Chartiers Valley and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. Both games were decided by 1-0 scores.

"We've had some great pitching and defense," Emge said. "Our bats have not been doing as much as we did earlier in the season, but we made it as far as we've had because of our pitching and defense. Pitching and defense is the most important when you get into the playoffs.

"We won a lot of close games thanks to our pitching and defense behind whoever has been on the mound. Brendan McKay and Adam Rousseau have pitched great for us. When you have good pitching and the guys behind them step up, that's all you need to win those one- or two-run games."

Amalia credits Emge's veteran talents for handling Blackhawk's pitching staff.

"He's done a tremendous job with our guys," said Amalia, who is in his 13th season coaching the Cougars. "With a guy such as Brendan McKay, who's a sophomore, Matt has done a great job heading out to the mound and calming down the younger pitchers in tough situations.

"No matter the situation, if there's a full count with the bases loaded and the ball goes in the dirt, you never have to worry because Matt's going to block the pitch."

Emge completed his high school education with a 3.92 GPA and plans to major in engineering at Ohio State.

"He has all the qualities of a great student-athlete that goes with being a great player and leader," Amalia said. "We have a great senior class, and with our system, he's been a great four-year starter and has stepped up when we needed him."

hsbaseball

First Published May 31, 2012 12:00 AM


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