Steel Valley takes first-ever WPIAL baseball title with dramatic win



For the greater part of two months, Jesse Cantley worked to reach this moment.

There was the time he spent in physical therapy, recovering from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in late March. There was the extra time he put in after practices upon his return, work that included only a week's worth of hitting again.

It all led to where he found himself, in the batter's box with the winning run 90 feet to his left in the last inning with the score tied. And, in that moment, he came through.

The Steel Valley junior singled home the winning run in the bottom of the seventh, helping the Ironmen finish a three-run rally that lifted them to a 6-5 victory against Seton-LaSalle in the WPIAL Class AA baseball championship Tuesday at Consol Energy Park in Washington, Pa.

For Cantley, who didn't know he would be in the lineup until coach Tim Vickers informed him in his second-period class Tuesday, it was a goal realized.

"Especially with the way this season went, it was just a dream to come back and contribute and help these guys out," he said.

"They battled the whole year and they gave me a chance to come back and contribute."

The championship is the first for Steel Valley in baseball.

The Ironmen (18-2) scored runs in the second and third to take a 2-0 lead, but a four-run fourth from the Rebels (15-6) gave them a lead that grew to 5-3 entering the final half inning.

Even with his team's championship dreams on the line, Vickers never noticed any kind of tension.

"I saw a level of calmness that was almost eerie," he said. "There was no panic whatsoever in those kids.

"That's what they've been doing all year. "

You don't get to this spot without having the timely hits."

Third baseman Matthew Hoesch led off the bottom of the seventh by reaching first on an error -- the umpire ruled that the first baseman moved off the bag trying to make the out -- and soon the bases were loaded for Steel Valley with two outs.

On two occasions, it was down to the final strike, but, facing a 3-2 count, second baseman Bryce Varhola singled, driving in two runs to tie the score and give Cantley an opportunity to win the game with teammates on second and third.

Even after giving up the tying runs, Seton-LaSalle opted to stick with starting pitcher Carson Rebel, who finished with 124 pitches.

"He did what he was supposed to do," Seton-LaSalle coach Shawn Trainor said.

"When I went out after the hit to tie it, I asked if he wanted me to put someone in, and he said, 'No, I want to finish.' "

But Cantley would not allow that to happen, hitting a single up the middle to drive home the winning run and send his teammates rushing onto the field to mob him.

Brandon Donovan picked up the win for the Ironmen, pitching a complete game and striking out nine.

"We've been talking all year about having goals," Vickers said.

"The number one goal is to go to the playoffs. The number two goal is to go to section. The number three goal -- sometimes a pipe dream, apparently not now -- is to win the WPIAL. "Though I've never said it, goal number four is now on the horizon."


Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG First Published May 27, 2014 7:45 PM

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