Throughout the WPIAL, if a team checks its schedule and sees Blackhawk listed as an opponent, the first question that comes to mind is: Will Brendan McKay be pitching?
McKay, who will in all probability have his choice of playing collegiately at the University of Louisville or going professional following the major league baseball draft, is 5-0 this season and has yet to allow an opposing runner to cross home plate in 34 innings this year. In fact, he has only allowed eight hits all season.
"He is a tremendous player," said Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia, who is in his 15th year coaching the Cougars. "He could go down as the best player in Blackhawk history. He is the best two-way player. He is the first kid who will tell you it takes a total team to win a championship."
Amalia will tell you that this year's success also does not solely rely on McKay's right arm. The Cougars are 11-1 overall and 8-1 in Class AAA Section 1, but McKay has only tallied five of those wins.
"We are 6-1 with other guys pitching," Amalia said.
So who are those other guys? The one guy who has shown to be a strong complement to McKay is junior Dante Parente.
"Dante has done a really nice job pitching," Amalia said. "He is 4-0 with a 2.72 ERA. In 22 innings, he has 13 strikeouts and no walks."
Those were Parente's stats entering a busy section week for the Cougars on Monday. Usually closing out games for Parente is senior Cody Bain. Bain is 1-1 with two saves. He also pitched a no-hitter on March 27 against Mohawk, striking out 15 batters.
Other pitchers receiving time on the mound are senior left-hander Rich Rowe and senior Duncan Miklos.
The Cougars are going to need all the pitching help they can get after qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs for the 13th year in a row.
With one game remaining on the regular-season schedule against West Allegheny Wednesday, Blackhawk still controlled its destiny to win the section title outright. The Cougars defeated Ambridge, 13-5, on Monday and shut out Montour, 3-0, Tuesday behind McKay.
Tuesday's victory clinched at least a share of the section title (Montour has completed section play with an 8-2 record).
"We are in a good position but I am a guy who focuses on one game at a time," Amalia said. "We made the playoffs for the 13th straight year which is nice."
The pitching isn't the only aspect of the cougars team that has stepped up in 2014. According to Amalia, the biggest difference from last year's team to this year's edition is the offense.
Going into this week's action, the Cougars had seven players batting better than .300, led by junior Joe Campagna at .607 with one home run and is tied for the team lead with 11 RBIs.
McKay is a distant second on the team with a .418 average. Senior catcher Jake Emge, who is the second member of his family to catch McKay for two years after his brother Matt did it McKay's first two years, is hitting at a .348 clip.
Right behind him are teammates Bain and Miklos at .346 each. Miklos is also tied for the team lead with 11 RBIs, batting out of the nine hole in the order.
Rowe has served as the Cougars lead-off hitter, batting .310 but with an on-base percentage of .500. Senior Chase Migliore and Parente are hitting .333 and .318, respectively.
In his 15 years as head coach, Amalia has won eight section championships and two WPIAL titles in 2004 and 2012.
With the playoffs essentially starting this week for his squad, Amalia sees it as an advantage to add to his trophy collection.
"I think it is real important," Amalia said. "It gets you ready for playoff-type games. It is good experience for the kids. There is nothing better. It should be fun."