South Xtra: After a stirring title win, Ironmen bounced in PIAA playoffs

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For members of Steel Valley's baseball team, panicking wasn't going to be an option.

Despite trailing Seton-LaSalle by two runs and being down to their final out in the bottom of the seventh inning during last week's WPIAL Class AA championship game, the Ironmen kept their cool.

"It would have been easy for all of us to roll over and die," said Derek Morrison, a senior right fielder and pitcher from Munhall. "Our hearts were all pounding, but we kept calm and everyone stayed in the game."

Steel Valley, in fact, battled back with a three-run rally and captured its first WPIAL baseball crown with a 6-5 win against the Rebels on May 27 at Consol Energy Park in North Franklin near Washington.

"We were down to our last at-bat three times," Ironmen coach Tim Vickers said. "You cannot be any more proud of those young men than battling through that situation."

"I have to give my kids credit. There was not one ounce of panic shown by any of them."

With the bases loaded and facing a 3-2 count, junior second baseman Bryce Varhola drove in a pair of runs with a single to tie the game.

"The end of the game was certainly entertaining," said Varhola, a Munhall resident. "We fought back and did our best to stay in the game. Our main goal was to attack on every pitch and take advantage of their mistakes."

Junior designated hitter Jesse Cantley followed Varhola and knocked in the winning run with a walk-off single.

"Even when we were down, we had confidence in everyone around us," said Cantley, another Munhall resident who had missed most of this season recovering from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament he sustained in March. "It's been like that all season.

"Being on the bench most of the year, I watched these guys very closely. We know the guy next to us can come through when we need it. Everyone believes in everyone."

Although Steel Valley advanced into the PIAA Class AA playoffs for only the second time since 2006, its season came to an end Monday. The Ironmen suffered a 10-4 first-round loss against District 5 champion Bedford Area (12-6) at Fox Chapel High School.

Steel Valley (18-3) entered the WPIAL playoffs with the No. 3 seed after winning the Section 4-AA title with a 12-0 section record. They went on to beat Apollo-Ridge in the first round before knocking off perennial-power Riverside in the quarterfinals and then topped Quaker Valley in the semifinals.

"Our coaches have done an amazing job getting us prepared this season," said junior pitcher Brandon Donovan, who also lives in Munhall. "Going back to our work in the weight room during the winter, we worked to become a solid team. We all trust in each other and knew we could win ballgames."

In the championship game against Seton-LaSalle, Donovan pitched a complete game and allowed six hits with three walks while striking out nine. Morrison went 2 for 4 with a run scored against the Rebels.

Senior third baseman Matthew Hoesch, senior center fielder Andrew Chuba, senior left fielder Sammy Ligeros, senior first baseman Michael Hoesch, junior catcher Cole Eged and senior shortstop Sean McShane rounded out Vickers' starting lineup against Seton-LaSalle.

"It was really the first time we've been down in a big game," Morrison said. "We didn't know what it was like to be trailing.

"For me, this being my senior year I didn't want it to be my last game. We all stayed calm and made sure we didn't get overly emotional."

Steel Valley was making its first appearance in a WPIAL title game. The Ironmen, who hadn't advanced past the semifinals since 2006, lost in the first round of the Class AA playoffs the past three consecutive seasons.

"This team has pretty much been together since [the seniors'] sophomore year," Vickers said. "They went through the ups and downs together. Their previous playoff losses helped build the character of this team.

"You could see it in their eyes that the playoffs weren't too big for them. They kept that confidence from the first win and kept running with it."

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