South Xtra: West Mifflin wins Region 6 title, advances to state playoffs


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West Mifflin's American Legion baseball team had some unfinished business to take care of this summer.

The returning members of Tom Simcho's team didn't take kindly losing to Blackhawk during last year's Region 6 championship game and soon began demanding more of themselves during the offseason.

"Our kids went into the winter talking about finishing what they didn't do last year," said Simcho, who has been West Mifflin's manager for the past 10 seasons. "They were one game away from the state tournament. The year before, they were two games away.

"They had something they wanted to prove."

West Mifflin, in fact, accomplished its goal by winning this year's regional tournament in Connellsville and earned the program's first trip to the state tournament.

What might be considered even more impressive, however, was how West Mifflin entered the state tournament with an unblemished 24-0 record.

"By no means are we perfect, but we do have a good team," Simcho said.

Competing against the best American Legion teams from Allegheny, Beaver and Fayette counties, West Mifflin represented the Allegheny South League in Connellsville last week. Simcho's team outscored its opponents, 49-11, in five games.

On July 23, West Mifflin beat Blackhawk in the semifinals, 7-5, before toppling Moon, 12-2, later in the day in the title game.

West Mifflin advanced into this week's state tournament in Boyertown, Berks County, and defeated Erie County's Region 8 champion Albion, 10-1, during Tuesday's first round. West Mifflin (25-0) was scheduled to play Hummelstown (26-1) Wednesday night.

"On paper, this is the best team I've ever coached," Simcho said. "We knew great things were going to come, not just because this team looked so good on paper, but because we knew they would produce on the field.

"They went out, got results and played like we hoped they would."

Simcho's lineup against Albion had Ryan Kandsberger behind the plate catching followed by shortstop Zack Miller, third baseman Zach Fodor, first baseman AJ Olasz, center fielder Brandon Donovan, left fielder Derek Morrison, designated hitter Dan Howard, right fielder Jake Liposky and second baseman Todd Sekowski. Luke Hils, a right-handed pitcher, was expected to be on the mound.

For the exception of three players, Simcho's roster is mainly composed of products from West Mifflin's high school baseball team. Donovan, who was the Post-Gazette's South Xtra Player of the Year, as well as Morrison both live in neighboring Munhall and played for Steel Valley's varsity team. Hils recently graduated from Central Catholic.

Miller and pitcher Cody Gross are West Mifflin graduates and both play collegiately at Bethany College. Simcho, though, also has a variety of college prospects in Olasz (Cincinnati), Morrison (University of South Carolina Aiken), Hils (Mansfield University), Kandsberger (Marietta College) and Fodor (Pitt-Greensburg).

"I've been coaching most of these players since they were in the eighth or ninth grade," said Simcho, whose coaching staff consists of West Mifflin's varsity head coach Jeff Smith as well as former West Mifflin coach Jeff Kuzma. "They all play well together and understand what we need to do as a team. Everyone fits right in."

Entering the state tournament, Morrison was batting .521 (25 for 48) with 23 RBIs. Fodor followed with a .571 average and 25 RBIs, while Miller was batting .435 with 25 RBIs. Kandsberger owned a .429 average with 20 RBIs and a team-high two home runs.

"We're pretty much strong at every aspect of the game," Simcho said. "Our pitching has been there, our defense makes plays and we hit the ball and run the bases well.

"We can also play 'small ball' or keep hitting doubles to the gap. We're very well rounded."

Pitching-wise, Hils was 7-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 46 strikeouts. Gross followed with a 4-0 record and 1.18 ERA, while Fodor and Donovan both had 3-0 records.

"Honestly, we don't have a No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher," Simcho said. "I can call on anyone of my guys at anytime and they could be our No. 1 guy."

The winner of the state's double-elimination tournament advances to the Mid-Atlantic regional tournament, which begins Aug. 7 in New Jersey.

"Before every game, we talk about doing what we've been doing and tell the guys to play the way they have been playing," Simcho said. "These guys are hungry and want to win.

"They expect to win and don't want to lose."


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