West Xtra: An amazing run ends for Blackhawk, McKay

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The Blackhawk High School baseball team won 15 games this season, won its ninth section title since 2002 and reached the WPIAL Class AAA final for the sixth time and PIAA tournament for the seventh time in that same span.

The team also got national attention thanks to senior pitcher Brendan McKay's scoreless streak that threatened the national record.

But two heartbreaking, extra-inning losses caused Blackhawk's season to end with a bitter taste in the Cougars' mouths.

Blackhawk lost the WPIAL title game, 5-3, in eight innings to West Allegheny and then, after a win in the first round of the PIAA tournament against Somerset, the Cougars suffered an eight-inning loss, 2-1, to Harriton last Thursday at Green Township Park near Scotland in Franklin County.

"I'm proud of the kids," Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said. "Baseball's a funny game. It's a game of inches and it just wasn't meant to be for us.

"Of course, our players were disappointed. Unless you win the last one, you're going to be disappointed, and only the state champion does that. But our kids had a great year."

The Cougars' success all starts with McKay, one of the best players in the WPIAL in recent memory. A sturdy 6-foot-1, 220-pound left-hander, he finished his high school career with a 30-2 record, including an 8-1 mark this season.

The lone loss in 2014 came to West Allegheny in the WPIAL title game, when the Indians snapped his 721/3 scoreless inning streak. The streak was tied for the second longest in national high school history.

On Saturday, McKay was drafted in the 34th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres, and now will have to decide whether to begin his professional career or attend the University of Lousiville.

"He's been fantastic," Amalia said. "Everyone knows about his accomplishments on the field, but off the field he's been nothing but great to coach. He always worked with us, never missed a practice and always did what he was supposed to do. He's a special kid."

The biggest difference for Blackhawk this season as opposed to 2013, when the Cougars went 10-7, was the pitching depth behind McKay.

In 2013, McKay went 7-0 but the Cougars were just 3-7 when he didn't toe the rubber, including a 13-3 loss in the WPIAL quarterfinals to Hopewell.

But this season, Blackhawk's No. 2 pitcher, junior Dante Parente, was 6-0 with a 2.37 earned-run average and senior Cody Bain provided solid relief pitching. The Cougars finished 7-3 when McKay wasn't on the hill.

The team's defense was also a strong suit. The senior outfield trio of Tyler Schroads, Bain and Rich Rowe didn't commit an error all season and senior shortstop Forrest Beighley had just five miscues at a premium and challenging position.

The Cougars also had a top defensive catcher in senior Jake Emge.

"He's probably one of the best defensive catchers I've had in my 15 years here," Amalia said. "Brendan will be the first to tell you how good he is."

Emge got injured in the loss to Harriton, forcing junior Hunter Alexander to come into the game. All Alexander did was throw out two runners on the basepaths and hit a double.

Amalia expects Alexander to step in and help form a nice nucleus next season with Parente, who tied Bain for the team lead in home runs with three, and junior second baseman Joe Campagna, who led the team with more than 20 RBIs and a .429 batting average.

They'll try to offset the loss of McKay and seven other senior starters who helped Blackhawk make the WPIAL playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, all with Amalia at the helm. Amalia, who has coached Blackhawk for 15 years, has also had the same three assistants -- Joe Boyer, Lou Wolber and Joe Basile -- by his side the whole time.

So while players may come and go, the Cougars will continue to have stability at the top.

"We've been to the WPIAL final six times, won nine section titles and been to the state playoffs seven times and I always like to mention Joe Boyer, Lou Wolber and Joe Basile," Amalia said. "They're a big reason for our success."

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