Either North Allegheny or Seneca Valley has played in the past five WPIAL Class AAAA baseball championship games. Expect more of the same this year.
North Allegheny and Seneca Valley are ranked 1-2 in the first Post-Gazette rankings of the season. North Allegheny beat Seneca Valley in last year's WPIAL title game. Although both must replace some key players who graduated, both will be strong again -- especially with pitching.
It wouldn't be surprising to see North Allegheny and Seneca Valley play for the WPIAL title again in May, but they will meet twice in the regular season because both play in Section 1 of Class AAAA.
High school teams in Pennsylvania were allowed to start playing games last Friday. A few teams went south to such places as Myrtle Beach or Florida to start the season. Many teams had games postponed the past week because of the weather.
Section play in the WPIAL begins next week. Here is a look at some of the top teams in the WPIAL:
North Allegheny must replace a few all-section players who graduated, but the Tigers always seem to reload. Mitch Matchi figures to be one of the WPIAL's top pitchers. He has an 11-2 career record with a 2.04 ERA and has signed with the University of Buffalo.
Jason Monper and Tyler Saundry are two other reasons North Allegheny is expected to have an excellent pitching staff. First baseman Brandon Rossier is one of the team's top position players. North Allegheny has won seven WPIAL titles in the past 24 seasons.
No. 2-ranked Seneca Valley also has a top pitcher in Connor Coward. A Virginia Tech recruit, Coward was 8-1 last season with 80 strikeouts in 61 innings and was one of only two juniors on the Post-Gazette 10-player All-Area team.
No. 3 Hempfield is coming off the best season in school history and the Spartans have a top outfielder in Joe DeFloria. But ace pitcher Zach Martinelli graduated.
Pine-Richland is another north suburban team expected to be strong. Although the Rams compete in Section 4 against some east suburban teams, they will return to Section 1 next year and play against North Allegheny and Seneca Valley. Pine-Richland has shortstop Daane Berezo, who has signed with Virginia Commonwealth, and also all-section outfielder Jamie Switalski.
Central Catholic will be led by pitcher Grant Gustic and outfielder Luca Farina. Gustic tied for second in the WPIAL in pitching wins during the 2013 regular season with a 7-0 record.
Norwin is definitely a team to watch. Shortstop J.J. Matijevic has signed with the University of Arizona. Noah Smith figures to be a top pitcher.
Penn-Trafford, Plum, Shaler Mt. Lebanon and Peters Township could also figure in the WPIAL title chase this season.
This classification doesn't seem to have an overwhelming favorite, but one could do a lot worse than pick Blackhawk as the No. 1 team. There is one main reason the Cougars could go far -- Brendan McKay.
McKay, a senior, is widely considered one of the top players in the state. He was the Post-Gazette Player of the Year for 2013 after he had a 7-0 pitching record with a 0.09 ERA. He finished the season on a 24-inning scoreless streak. He pitched 60 innings, struck out 117 and allowed only three runs (one earned). His career record is 22-1 with only 18 runs (13 earned) in 184 innings. He also hit better than .400 last year.
McKay has signed with the University of Louisville.
No. 2 Hampton features a top pitcher in Ben Vey, who was 7-1 during the 2013 regular season.
Keystone Oaks is still a team to watch, despite the graduation of All-Area pitcher-outfielder Jared Skolnicki.
Defending WPIAL champion South Park was hit hard by graduation. Hopewell, the WPIAL runner-up, should still be highly competitive and is in a tough section with Blackhawk and West Allegheny.
Quaker Valley lost a number of seniors from last year's team that was defeated by Beaver in the WPIAL title game. But if pitching is the most important thing in high school, then Quaker Valley looks good.
The Quakers feature junior Tyler Garbee, who led the WPIAL in regular-season wins in 2013 with an 8-0 record. Matt Delie also is back at pitcher and Ben Utterback was an all-section catcher. Quaker Valley is in a tough section with Seton-LaSalle and New Brighton.
Steel Valley won a section title last season for the first time in 19 years and a number of top players are back, including pitcher Brandon Donovan, who went 5-0 last season as a sophomore. Derek Morrison also is back at pitcher. He was the staff ace two years ago, but only was a designated hitter last season after arm surgery. Andrew Chuba was an all-section outfielder last year.
Riverside will be led by infielder Ross Maietta while Shady Side Academy features outfielder Chuckie Scales, who has signed with Bucknell.
California made it to the WPIAL semifinals last year with a number of non-senior players. A year older, those players are the main reason the Trojans are No. 1.
Four all-section players return for California -- senior catcher Jake Columbus, senior infielder Ronnie Baron, sophomore infielder Louden Conte and junior outfielder Aaron Previsky.
But California should get a run for the Section 1 championship from Carmichaels. The Mikes have three all-section players returning -- junior catcher Mike Blasinsky, senior shortstop Ty Cole and senior pitcher Brandon Lawless.
Western Beaver has pitcher-infielder Nick Miller, a terrific all-around athlete who played football and led area basketball in scoring at 30.1 points a game.
No. 3 Riverview will be led by Dom Conte and pitcher Nick DiBucci.
WPIAL Class AAAA
1. North Allegheny 22-5
2. Seneca Valley 19-5
3. Hempfield 20-5
4. Pine-Richland 17-5
5. Central Catholic 17-5
WPIAL Class AAA
1. Blackhawk 10-7
2. Hampton 17-3
3. Keystone Oaks 20-6
4. Hopewell 20-5
5. Indiana 14-5
WPIAL Class AA
1. Quaker Valley 23-2
2. Steel Valley 12-6
3. Riverside 15-4
4. Shady Side Academy 16-9
5. New Brighton 13-5
WPIAL Class A
1. California 20-6
2. Western Beaver 18-3
3. Riverview 15-3
4. Carmichaels 13-4
5. Serra 18-3
Players to watch
Zach Bahm, Mt. Lebanon, Senior, Pitcher
Daane Berezo, Pine-Richland, Senior, Shortstop
Connor Coward, Seneca Valley, Senior, Pitcher
Joe DeFloria, Hempfield, Senior, Outfielder
Dom Farina, Norwin, Catcher, Senior
Luca Farina, Central Catholic, Senior, Outfielder
Cameron Franklin, Penn Hills, Junior, Outfielder
Grant Gustic, Central Catholic, Senior, Pitcher
Mitch Machi, North Allegheny, Senior, Pitcher
J.J. Matijevic, Norwin, Senior, Shortstop
Brandon Nania, Franklin Regional, Senior, Catcher
Brandon Rossier, North Allegheny, Senior, First baseman
Noah Smith, Norwin, Senior, Pitcher-Outfielder
Tyler Smith, Penn-Trafford, Senior, Pitcher
Dom Castello, Chartiers Valley, Senior, Catcher
Ryan Creps, Indiana, Senior, Infielder
Drew DeBerry, Laurel Highlands, Senior, Outfielder
Shane Fetsko, South Park, Senior, First baseman
Tyler Lehman, Keystone Oaks, Senior, Pitcher
Mitch Matlas, Mount Pleasant, Senior, Outfielder
Joe McHugh, Thomas Jefferson, Senior, First baseman
Brendan McKay, Blackhawk, Senior, Pitcher-Outfielder
A.J. Olasz, West Mifflin, Senior, Pitcher
Sean Thompson, Indiana, Senior, Pitcher
Ben Vey, Hampton, Senior, Pitcher
David Boehme, Seton-LaSalle, Senior, Infielder
Tyler Booher, Shenango, Senior, Pitcher
Brandon Donovan, Steel Valley, Junior, Pitcher
Danzel Lewis, Seton-LaSalle, Junior, Catcher
Ross Maietta, Riverside, Senior, Infielder
Derek Morrison, Steel Valley, Senior, Pitcher
Tyler Garbee, Quaker Valley, Junior, Pitcher
Chuckie Scales, Shady Side Academy, Senior, Outfielder
Ben Utterback, Quaker Valley, Senior, Outfielder
Ronnie Baron, California, Senior, Infielder
Mike Blasinsky, Carmichaels, Junior, Catcher
Jake Columbus, California, Senior, Catcher
Dom Conte, Riverview, Senior, Infielder
Jay Cortese, Vincentian, Senior, Outfielder
Nick DiBucci, Riverview, Senior, Pitcher
Parker Janosko, Serra, Junior, Infielder
Brandon Lawless, Carmichaels, Senior, Pitcher
Phil Madonna, Vincentian, Senior, Catcher
Nick Miller, Western Beaver, Senior, Infielder-Pitcher
Chaz Verrico, Rochester, Senior, Outfielder
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh