North Xtra: North Allegheny semifinal loss is a heartbreaker

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Over the course of 10 weeks, a span which included 27 games, the North Allegheny baseball team built a strong, consistent resume in the rigors of Class AAAA baseball.

Entering the PIAA semifinals, the Tigers had won 22 games and 18 of their past 19, a dominant tear that brought them from a middling 4-3 team to the sought-after status as the premier squad in Western Pennsylvania.

Tuesday at Somerset, just a game away from playing for the PIAA championship, North Allegheny's dream of a state title vanished with a single swing of the bat from Lower Dauphin's Jake Shellenberger, whose walk-off home run in the 10th inning pushed the Falcons past the Tigers.

Though the loss ended North Allegheny's season in a cruel, swift and unexpected manner, the team's resume and its months of work remain.

The Tigers finished the season at 22-5, a streak of success that included a WPIAL championship and the program's most wins since 2009, a year before any members of the current team were even in high school.

While it was a year that ended in disappointment, it is hard for the Tigers to overlook what they were able to accomplish.

"I'm proud of them, I'm proud of everything they accomplished this year, I'm proud of how much they care and how much they gave," North Allegheny coach Andy Maddix said. "One day we can look back and say a couple of things.

"One, we had a great season. They accomplished an enormous amount for each other and their school. Second, it's a life lesson. Hopefully, they know it was only fun because they cared so much as the season went along."

For North Allegheny to even be in the position it was may have been something of a surprise to those outside the program entering the season, as the Tigers were coming off a 13-10 season in which they bowed out in the WPIAL semifinals.

After a slow start, the Tigers began to find their form as the season progressed.

Beginning with a 12-3 win against Butler on April 13, North Allegheny would lose just one more time for almost the next two months. It was an overpowering and sometimes dominant stretch in which the team averaged 6.16 runs per game and outscored its opponents by an average of 4.37 runs per game.

The team's success was keyed by a number of important pieces who made regular contributions throughout the season. Offensively, there was senior third baseman James Meeker, who led the Tigers in the regular season with a .463 batting average. First baseman Matt Waugaman was a consistent source of power, driving in 23 runs.

On the mound, Mitch Machi and Jason Monper led the team with four regular-season wins apiece.

With those kinds of performances, North Allegheny was able to twice beat two-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion Seneca Valley in the postseason.

"I'm not sure I've been part of a heart-breaking loss like this," Maddix said after the game Tuesday. "This is the toughest one I can remember."

For next season, the team returns some talent although it loses 10 seniors, an overwhelming majority of whom were starters.

But after the loss Tuesday, Maddix referenced how much his team cared about the game and their shared success.

Maddix said he hopes that same level of commitment and emotional investment will remain with the returning players.

"When you have a heart-breaking loss, you're going to be emotional and upset," Maddix said, "but that's what makes life worth living."


Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG


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