South Xtra: District rival hoping to KO unbeaten South Park team

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL/PIAA QUARTERFINALS


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Success in the PIAA baseball playoffs is new to South Park and Keystone Oaks.

After getting a taste of it Monday, the schools are eager for seconds.

South Park will meet Keystone Oaks at 1:30 p.m. today in a PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal at Upper St. Clair. Earlier this week, South Park (25-0) won a PIAA playoff game for just the second time in school history. Keystone Oaks (19-5) did it for the first time.

"Getting here was one of our goals, but we're not satisfied yet," Keystone Oaks coach Scott Crimone said.

Although the schools don't have a rich tradition in terms of winning in the state tournament, the squads they field this season have the talent to add a few more wins to the history books.

This is a rematch of a WPIAL semifinal won by South Park, 1-0. That game featured a fabulous pitchers duel between South Park's Randy Dobnak and Keystone Oaks' Jared Skolnicki. Dobnak gave up one hit and struck out eight in five innings. Skolnicki pitched a complete-game two-hitter with 11 strikeouts. South Park's Nick Yobbi had a run-scoring single in the first that proved to be the game-winner.

"Keystone Oaks is a good team," South Park coach Steve Bucci said. "I commented to someone after [the previous meeting] that they'll find a way to get into the state playoffs and we might play them again.

"Here it is."

A few hours before South Park won its first WPIAL championship at Consol Energy Field, Keystone Oaks was busy punching its ticket to the PIAA tournament by defeating West Allegheny in the third-place consolation game at Washington & Jefferson College Field, located a few hundred yards away.

South Park kept its perfect season alive with a 7-5 victory against District 5 champion Somerset at Upper St. Clair on Monday.

It wasn't easy.

South Park spotted Somerset an early lead after giving up three runs in the top of the first inning. Dobnak, who has been spot-on all season, struggled and was pulled in favor of Jake Bywalski before recording an out.

For a team that hasn't trailed very often this season, falling behind early might have been looked at as being devastating, but South Park needed to look no further than its previous game to realize it wasn't time to panic. The Eagles trailed Hopewell, 3-0, in the second inning of the WPIAL championship game, before rallying for a 4-3 win in nine innings.

"This team has shown a lot of perseverance. Championship-caliber teams do that," Bucci said. "There are going to be bumps in the road. The good teams persevere and fight through it."

South Park quickly shot back with three runs of its own in the bottom of the first to forge a tie. The Eagles trailed again, 4-3, before scoring in the fourth and fifth to take a 5-4 lead. With the game tied, 5-5, in the sixth, Yobbi tripled to plate Carter Grote. Yobbi then scored on a wild pitch to provide an insurance run.

Skolnicki made sure Keystone Oaks didn't have to overcome any deficits. He pitched a no-hitter and struck out 11 in leading the Golden Eagles to a 4-0 first-round win against District 10 champion Slippery Rock at Jerry Uht Stadium in Erie.

Surprisingly, Crimone said Skolnicki "wasn't as dominant as usual."

"He had three walks, but they came early," Crimone said. "As usual, he showed his poise and overcame [some control problems]."

Offensively, Brandon Gresh had two RBIs, and Walt Hepner and Ryan Ribeau knocked in one apiece. The Golden Eagles scored once in the first, twice in the fourth, and once in the sixth.

South Park and Keystone Oaks now meet with a semifinal berth on the line. The winner will play the Punxsutawney-Upper Moreland winner next Monday. The survivor of that game will be off to Penn State to play for a PIAA title.

"We expect it to be a good one," Bucci said.

Said Crimone: "When they beat us, 1-0, the message I gave the kids was not to hang their heads about it. I had a feeling we'd see them again, and here we are."

South Park pitcher Randy Dobnak celebrates after defeating Hopewell in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game.

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