The North Allegheny baseball team graduated every position player from a WPIAL championship winning team last season.
While others may have doubted North Allegheny's ability to repeat this year, the team itself was not about to lower expectations.
Because as rare as it is to graduate eight position players, it is not a situation entirely unique to coach Andy Maddix and his staff. The Tigers won the 2009 WPIAL Class AAAA championship and returned only one position starter the following season.
The Tigers reached the WPIAL final the very next year. Maddix hopes it is a similar situation this year.
"In 2010 it was very similar," Maddix said. "We replaced all but one starter and we had our pitching back and made it to the championship game. This year it is kind of a similar deal, we do have our pitching back."
North Allegheny closed out section play with an 8-2 record following a 16-5 win Saturday at New Castle. A day earlier it lost, 8-6, to a surging North Hills team and many on the team thought the loss had just cost it a share of the section title.
"It was a tough game for us," Maddix said. "North Hills was emotionally very up -- that is a neighborhood rivalry. They needed the win to stay alive, they were playing well and we had a bad inning. North Hills made all the plays and they beat us. After that game we were disappointed; we thought we lost a chance to win the section."
But on Monday night, with the Tigers off, Butler Area traveled to North Hills. A Butler loss would create a tie atop Section 1-AAAA and mean a shared section title between Butler and North Allegheny. In the fifth inning of that game Maddix received a text from his brother-in-law, who was at the game, telling him North Hills was up, 3-2. Maddix followed the rest of the game online and North Hills held on for a 3-2 win.
"We were able to back into a section co-championship," Maddix said Tuesday morning. "But today when I see them I will make sure to tell our guys they should be proud of what they accomplished. I am going to make sure to congratulate them."
Although North Allegheny (13-6 overall before Wednesday's regular-season finale against Hempfield Area) did have to replace eight position players, it returned an arsenal of pitching arms not often seen in the WPIAL.
Senior right-handed pitcher Mitch Machi is a three-year starter. He was the winning pitcher in the WPIAL championship game last season and this season he led the team in innings pitched. Sophomore Jon Dignazio, a left-handed pitcher, is second on the team in innings pitched. He picked up the win against Butler in the second meeting this season as well as the win against New Castle on Saturday. Senior Tyler Saundry, a Niagara University recruit, has four saves this year. Machi, Dignazio and Saundry all have ERAs of less than 2.00.
A year ago, North Allegheny and Seneca Valley's seasons were defined by their four meetings. Seneca Valley swept the regular-season series, winning both games, 3-2, to clinch a section title. North Allegheny returned the favor in the postseason, winning two meetings by identical 4-2 scores, triumphs in the WPIAL championship and the PIAA quarterfinals.
This season the Tigers did not wait until the playoffs to notch a win against the Raiders. They swept the regular-season series, winning, 6-1, April 10 at Seneca Valley in 12 innings and winning, 6-2, April 24 at home.
Senior designated hitter Luke Zahren, the Tigers' leadoff hitter, is batting .321 with 17 runs scored. Senior first baseman Josh Plichta, an Otterbein University recruit, is batting .444 with 14 RBIs and 14 runs scored. Senior second baseman Matt Muslin is batting .390 with 13 RBIs. Out of the cleanup spot Dan Trettel has 15 RBIs and 17 runs scored while batting .356. Zahren and Trettel will both likely play at Washington & Jefferson College next season.
Machi, a University of Buffalo recruit, is having one of the best offensive years in the WPIAL. He was batting .489 with 25 RBIs and two of the team's three home runs. Junior Ryan Hamm is the team's starting catcher. He is batting .382 with one home run and nine RBIs.
Sophomore third baseman Blake Young was batting .256 with eight RBIs. Senior Jason Monper starts at either center or left field depending on who is pitching. He was batting .229 with eight runs scored.
Sophomore shortstop Garrett Hagen turns the lineup over. He was batting .317 with nine runs scored.