High School notebook: Pirates latest to tout champs

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Ralph Blundo emerged from the Pirates dugout moments after posing for a photo with a well-built, hard-looking man who had a tattoo on his face.

"He just wanted a picture with Iron Ralph," Blundo deadpanned.

That was Thursday night when Blundo, the highly successful boys basketball coach at New Castle High School, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Pirates game at PNC Park. The Pirates had another individual follow Blundo and throw out another first pitch. It was former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

Before the pitches, Blundo walked into the Pirates dugout and took some pictures with Iron Mike. It was a night to remember for Blundo as he, his assistant coaches and players were honored on the field before the Pirates game for going 31-0 and becoming the first WPIAL team in 31 years to go through an entire season undefeated.

The night at PNC was humorous. Before he took the mound, Blundo's assistant coaches and some players ribbed him about not being able to get the pitch to home plate. Chris Serkoch of the Pirates explained to Blundo what would happen in the pregame ceremony.

"You can throw in front of the mound, but feel free to go to the top of the mound," said Serkoch. "Real men go to the top of the mound."

When it was time, Blundo did indeed go to the top of the mound and threw the pitch to the Pirate parrot. Although the pitch certainly lacked heat and had some arc to it, the pitch made it to home without bouncing.

"I'm sticking to my story, it was a wicked changeup," Blundo said with a laugh.

The whole thing was an unusual event when you think about it, because really how many high school basketball coaches are asked to throw out the first pitch at a major league game? How many WPIAL basketball teams are honored on the field by the Pirates?

But the past few weeks have been quite unusual for Blundo, his coaches and his players. The Red Hurricanes' unforgettable season rallied a town and its people. Since winning the state championship, there has been a victory parade attended by a couple thousand people, and New Castle's players have visited pre-schools, elementary schools, churches and nursing homes. They had autograph-signing sessions. They have printed 500 tickets for the team banquet May 18.

"Just about every day it's been something," said Blundo. "Any place our guys can make an impact, we've gone because their influence is so strong right now. They understand their obligation and they've embraced it and enjoyed it.

"You realize how unbelievable this all has been when you talk to other players and coaches who have won major championships in high school. Although there has been great fanfare, it doesn't compare to what has taken place at New Castle. But you always worry about the attention crippling the kids, too. There is a really good chance most of these kids will never have this type of fanfare again and you don't want them to get addicted to it."

Walker notices McKay

Blackhawk pitcher Brendan McKay has opened many eyes this year, striking out 20 batters in two of the three games he has pitched. Even Neil Walker has noticed.

On Wednesday, when McKay was striking out 20 in an 8-0 victory against Central Valley, Walker, the Pirates second-baseman, reacted to a Twitter post about McKay that read "a high school player around here hasn't created this much buzz since @NeilWalker18."

Walker quickly responded with "I hope the Buccos get him too!!"

When told of Walker's tweet, McKay's eyes lit up, he laughed and said, "that would be pretty cool if it happened."

Later that night, Walker tweeted a message to McKay (@darealfrosh33), saying "good luck brother, stay focused, work hard and stay humble."

The Quips and streaks

The Aliquippa softball team ended a 133-game losing streak Thursday with a 10-9 victory against Western Beaver. The question now is, Will the Aliquippa baseball team follow suit and end its long losing streak?

Aliquippa has lost 89 consecutive baseball games. The Quips' last win was against Quaker Valley on April 21, 2008.

Amazing Montae

Gateway's Montae Nicholson was one of the top football players in the WPIAL this past season. Considering what he is now doing in track and field, it's clear he is one of the best athletes in the WPIAL.

Nicholson is the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion in the 110-meter hurdles and he has the best time (14.26 seconds) in the WPIAL this spring. But that only tells part of his athletic story.

Nicholson also has the best long jump (24 feet, ½ inch) in the WPIAL. He did the high jump in only a few meets and cleared 6-6, by far the best in the WPIAL. He ran the 100-dash last week for the first time this spring and his time of 11.16 seconds is fourth-best in the WPIAL.

"He's an amazing athlete," said Gateway coach Tom LaBuff. "He just continues to develop and this year, he's just off the charts. In the high jump, he has no arch, no form and hates the event. But he jumped 6-6."

Nicholson signed with Michigan State in February to play football. But he also will compete in track and field for the Spartans.

"That's one of the reasons he chose Michigan State is they will let him do track, too," said LaBuff.

Rowan named All-American

Lincoln Park basketball player Maverick Rowan received a pretty significant honor this week when he was named a second-team sophomore All-American by Maxpreps.com. That means Maxpreps considers Rowan one of the top 10 sophomores in the country.

Rowan, a 6-foot-6 guard who already has accepted a scholarship from Pitt, averaged 26.3 points a game this season and has 1,482 career points in only two seasons.

The Maxpreps teams included a few players who have to be on the "all-name" team. Seventh Woods of Columbia, S.C., was a second-team selection while 7-footer Thon Maker of Martinsville, Va., was a first-team pick.

For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh

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