West Xtra: OLSH rides senior standout in playoffs

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL

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Personal statistics are basically just a bunch of numbers to Preston Falascino.

Sure, this senior pitcher/shortstop for the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart baseball team is both excited and proud of his individual accomplishments during the regular season, but he also believes his stats mean nothing if the Chargers aren't winning.

"Winning as a team is what matters," said Falascino, who lives in the Banksville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. "Stats are one thing and that's personal, but what our team accomplishes and our current winning streak is what's really important."

Behind Falascino, OLSH rode a 15-game winning streak into the postseason and captured the Section 5-A title with a perfect 10-0 record.

The Chargers entered this week ranked No. 1 in Class A by the Post-Gazette and were awarded a No. 2 seed in the WPIAL playoff bracket after finishing the regular season at 16-2.

They defeated Monessen, 12-0, Monday in a game shortened to five innings by the mercy rule and were scheduled to play Union, a 9-5 winner against North Catholic in another first-round game Monday, in the quarterfinals Wednesday at Pullman Park in Butler.

"We're playing strong as a team and really working well together," said Falascino, a Slippery Rock University recruit. "We have tons of camaraderie and work well together in difficult situations. We can pick each other up and we're focused together as a team."

Since opening its season losing two of three games during a spring trip in South Carolina, OLSH had outscored WPIAL opponents, 202-30, before Wednesday's game against Union.

"We're definitely working hard and remaining focused as a team," Falascino said. "We're making sure we're prepared for every game and not letting anything get in our way."

One of the WPIAL's top pitchers and hitters this season, Falascino, a right-hander, has been the Chargers' ace for the past two seasons.

"Preston, in a lot of ways, is the heart and soul of this team," OLSH coach Phil McCarren said. "We have a lot of good players on this team, but he has really stepped forward to have an incredible season.

"He's the centerpiece of this team."

Falascino entered the playoffs with a 5-1 record and 48 strikeouts in 312/3 innings pitched. He also allowed just two earned runs to post an impressive 0.43 ERA.

At the plate, Falascino batted .527 (29 for 55) with seven doubles, five home runs and 29 RBIs in 18 games during the regular season. He also stole 10 bases and scored 35 runs.

"He is extremely dedicated," McCarren said. "Pitching-wise, he has a live arm and pitches in the upper 80s [mph]. He also has nice off-speed stuff with a nice curveball and changeup.

"He also plays shortstop for us and has an excellent arm across the diamond. He's a smooth fielder with a lot of range.

"Hitting-wise, he hits well. He bats third in the lineup and does well with the guys around him and has been able to move the guys in front of him."

As a junior, Falascino ended up posting a team-best 9-2 pitching record with a 2.18 ERA and his 104 strikeouts set a program single-season record. He also led the team in hitting with a .387 average, 10 doubles and 25 RBIs.

"I pretty much expected him to have a stellar season [this year]," McCarren said. "He's a very talented player, one of the most talented players I've ever coached.

"He's also a tremendous leader, especially with the younger guys. He looks out for his teammates and is very team-oriented. He's been a great assistance for me as a coach."

Besides posting impressive numbers as a junior, Falascino helped the Chargers to a third-place consolation win in the WPIAL playoffs as well as led the program to its first trip in the PIAA postseason. All that came in the wake of the youngster enduring tragedy when his mother, Christine Falascino, died last April.

"What has impressed me the most about Preston is his focus and dedication," McCarren said. "Losing a mother, especially at a young age, can be very difficult to deal with. He respects the game and plays the game hard for her.

"His ability to come back from that and do what he has done on the field says a lot about that young man."

Falascino, though, remains focused on helping OLSH make an even further postseason run this year and hopes to close out his high school career with some championship hardware.

"Winning a WPIAL championship and state title is definitely a goal of ours, but we're not looking toward the future," Falascino said. "We remain focused on our next opponent and our duties in order to win that game.

"We have to play every game like it's our last. We have to keep the mindset that we're the hunter and not the hunted."

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