It would be easy to understand why Blackhawk's varsity baseball team may have felt a little discouraged and disappointed after losing in last week's WPIAL championship game.
Besides suffering a 5-3 eight-inning Class AAA upset against section-rival West Allegheny at Consol Energy Park in Washington County last Thursday, the Cougars also saw star pitcher Brendan McKay's impressive scoreless inning streak come to a halt.
Nevertheless, Blackhawk quickly regrouped.
Earlier this week, the Cougars rebounded with a 4-3 win against District 5 champion Somerset Area (18-2) during the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona.
"The kids showed a lot of character," Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said. "Obviously, we were down after losing the championship, but these kids weren't down for long. They were back and ready to play no different than any other game.
"These kids play with confidence. They went out and played hard against a very good, excellent team."
The Cougars (15-3) advance to the quarterfinals of the state Class AAA bracket and will face District 1 runner-up Harriton (15-7). Blackhawk is scheduled to play at 1 p.m. today at Green Township Park in Franklin County, against the Rams, who are coming off a 9-8 win against District 3 champion Northern York.
"This team has done an outstanding job all year and have played great all year," Amalia said. "I couldn't be more pleased with the effort and senior leadership. I'm very happy with their attitude."
Against Somerset, McKay pitched in relief and struck out eight of the 10 batters he faced. He also supplied an RBI-triple and was intentionally walked three times.
Senior first baseman Chase Migliore drove in two runs and went 3 for 3 with a run scored. Senior catcher Jake Emge went 2 for 3, while senior left fielder Tyler Shroads chipped in with a double, two walks and two runs scored.
"A lot of kids stepped up," Amalia said. "I moved some guys around in our batting order and made some changes during the game but never heard any pouting.
"They all stepped up and were in it to win it. I'm very proud of their effort."
McKay, a senior left-handed pitcher and Louisville recruit, has been an obvious factor for the team's success this season. His loss against West Allegheny ended a run of 721/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run, which ties for the second-longest national streak in high school baseball.
With the win against Somerset, McKay improved to 8-1 on the season and 30-2 for his career.
"Brendan is not a vocal leader but he leads by example," Amalia said. "To get to 721/3 innings without giving up a run, you have to have some good defense behind you. The guys all like him and wanted to get the [national] record for him.
"We've also had an outstanding catcher in Jake Emge, who has done a great job behind the plate and working with our pitchers."
During the regular season, Blackhawk allowed just 27 runs and posted seven shutout victories in 13 games. The Cougars won a pair of shutout wins in the WPIAL playoffs and have allowed nine runs in five postseason games.
"We've hit the ball well and played very good defense all season," Amalia said. "When you look at those shutouts, it shows how well we've played defensively.
"We pretty much have had a nice combination of hitting the ball, pitching and defense. It's been a good all-around team effort."
Amalia hopes that consistency continues in the state playoffs.
"We're a humble team and we respect every opponent," Amalia said. "We just have to keep relying on what we've done up to this point. We need good pitching and timely hitting.
"These kids know what they need to do. These kids are winners."