West Xtra: West Allegheny showing it can compete on the diamond

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It wasn't that long ago that West Allegheny was the cream of the crop in Class AAA baseball.

The Indians won back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2007 and '08 under coach Bryan Cornell.

Cornell has returned for his 11th year as head coach at West Allegheny and is hungry to repeat last year's success.

The Indians were one step away from returning to the WPIAL title game, but lost, 4-0, to section rival Hopewell in the semifinals. With the loss, the Indians still had a chance to make the PIAA playoffs but fell, 1-0, in the third-place consolation game to Keystone Oaks.

"The team has high goals and expectations," Cornell said. "They see themselves in a situation that they were in last year. We realize it takes a lot of hard work. We have to worry about getting past a tough section first.

"Anything can happen and we know that. We just want to get into the playoffs and from there it is a new season and anything can happen."

The Indians had jumped out to a 5-1 overall start and had split their first two section games before Wednesday's scheduled meeting with Ambridge. As for Cornell, he is pleased with what he sees but knows that actually getting games played has been difficult because of the lousy weather.

"I think the reaction is a positive one," Cornell said about the start of the season. "I like how the kids have prepared up to this point in the season. We haven't played as much as we would have liked. It is tough to go out there with the weather like this.

"The guys work hard and are extremely excited to be in the position they are in and compete for a section playoff spot."

With Hopewell, the defending section champions, graduating a plethora of players, Cornell believes this section can be more "up-for-grabs" than ever.

"I really believe that the section is wide open," Cornell said. "When Brendan McKay pitches, Blackhawk can beat anyone in the WPIAL. When he is on the mound, they are the team to beat.

"I just think the section is very competitive. It has always been that way. We have some quality pitchers in our section. In such a short season, it is about who plays the best. Anyone can beat anyone on any given day and you just have to be hot at the right time."

The Indians currently sit in fourth place in the section but only find themselves 1½ games behind section leader Montour.

After falling to McKay and Blackhawk in the first section game, the Indians rebounded with a 4-3 win against Central Valley.

"It was huge," Cornell said. "It was our second section game. Because it is so competitive, we knew going down two games would be difficult. It was a tight ballgame and we found a way to get it done. It was a big relief and you realize you put yourself in position for a section title."

Two of the players leading the way for the Indians for a long time have been pitcher Colin Claus and position player Tyler Amedure. This junior duo has been making an impact on the varsity squad since their freshman years.

Claus has picked up two wins this season and a tough no decision in the win against Central Valley.

"He has been tremendous," Cornell said. "We feel good when he is on the mound. We feel like we have a deep pitching staff. Colin has really commanded his pitches this year. He is confident in his pitching. Colin has really stepped up his game this year."

Amedure, who picked up the win against Central Valley, was the starting center fielder for the Indians last year but made the switch to second base this year.

"He didn't even flinch when we told him," Cornell said. "He is that type of kid who will do whatever it takes to win."

In the end, the Indians plan on making another run at a section and WPIAL titles, and will use the weather and pitching depth to their advantage.

"I feel like we can win the section," Cornell said. "We have just as good of a shot as anyone. We feel like we have a deep pitching staff so the weather can help us in certain situations.

"We certainly think we can be there to contend. If you have that deep pitching, it puts you in a better spot."

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