South Xtra: Inspired Lebo team wins the section title

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At a time when it should be celebrating its achievements, the Mt. Lebanon baseball community has its minds and hearts elsewhere.

Last Monday, Clint Seymour, a 2004 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate and former baseball standout, died after he was hit during an altercation with a group of young men in Charleston, S.C. Seymour helped the Blue Devils to the 2002 WPIAL championship under Pat McCloskey, the team's coach then and now.

"Our entire program is deeply saddened beyond words," McCloskey said. "I had the privilege to coach him for four years and taught him for two years. He was the nicest and most fun-loving kid. He was the epitome of life and baseball in Mt. Lebanon."

To honor Seymour, the Blue Devils were able to capture their first Class AAAA Section 5 title outright on Monday with a 5-0 win at Brashear. Coincidentally, Monday would have been Seymour's 28th birthday.

"We never outright won the section," McCloskey said. "I told them this is your chance, this is your opportunity. It is a very motivated group. As far as the playoffs, we want to get in and play well. I don't read anything into the seeding.

The Blue Devils (11-9, 8-2) rattled off eight consecutive section wins after losing its first two in dramatic fashion. Mt. Lebanon began section play losing at Peters Township, 2-1, and Canon-McMillan, 15-14. Even with the rough start, McCloskey saw something special with this group.

"It was gut-check time after the first two games against Peters and Canon-Mac," McCloskey said. We played very good games there against very good teams. We felt two months ago that we had a chance to be competitive. I thought we were very well-rounded going into the season. We had pitching depth but a lot of question marks. It is very difficult to have your season based on 10 games.

"This might be the most well-rounded team I have coached. It is a little bit different when you look at the lineup. We are not counting on one or two guys. We have some really good players but it has been very, very, very team-oriented. The second time through in the section we have really come through."

The Blue Devils have relied on two of their most experienced pitchers, Austin Kitchen and Zack Bahm. Kitchen and Bahm were significant members of the 2011 team that lost in the WPIAL championship game.

Both pitchers have eclipsed the 30-inning plateau this year and Kitchen leads the team in wins with five, strikeouts with 50 and had his ERA at 1.36 before Monday's 5-0 victory against Brashear that clinched the section title. Bahm is 2-1 with two saves and a 3.60 ERA.

Bahm also led the team with a .431 batting average and had 13 RBIs and scored 15 runs before Monday.

In a game that could have very well determined the outcome of the section, Kitchen and Bahm combined to shut down Canon-Mac, 3-2, last Thursday.

"Going into that game, you knew you could finish first, second, third or out of the playoffs," McCloskey said. "We've been in this situation before and I have seen it go every different way.

"Fortunately, Austin was on full rest and went six innings with 10 strikeouts. Zack came in and closed it."

Entering the game, Mt. Lebanon, Canon-Mac and Peters were tied for first. Peters also suffered a loss that night, giving the Blue Devils sole possession of first place. The victory against Brashear Monday salted away the title.

Despite winning the section title, the Blue Devils only finished a couple games over .500 overall for the second year in a row, a product of scheduling perennial playoff powerhouses in non-section games.

"It is really two seasons within a season," McCloskey said. "Everything that we are doing early on against playoff teams is trying to figure things out. The second time through the section our lineup has been pretty set. Everybody understands their roles on the team. It just takes time.

"If you are trying to win games in the playoffs, you have to play good teams out of the section and evaluate the talent. I feel like we are battle-tested. You are playing those games to win and we have had some success the past few years."

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