West Xtra: Even with McKay gone, Blackhawk wins Beaver County title

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Opposing teams competing in this year's Pennsylvania Region 6 American Legion baseball tournament won't have to worry about facing Blackhawk ace pitcher Brendan McKay.

The hard-throwing left-handed pitcher is done playing local summer baseball. He's already left to begin his collegiate career and to start classes at the University of Louisville.

McKay's teammates, however, are still competing.

Composed of members of the high school's varsity and junior varsity teams, Blackhawk (19-4) challenged Hopewell last weekend during the Beaver County American Legion League's best-of-five championship series. Since 2001, Blackhawk has reached the championship series 13 times and won eight county titles.

"I'm really pleased with how we've been playing up to this point," said veteran Blackhawk manager Bob Amalia, who is also the head coach of the Blackhawk High varsity team. "We've gone through some growing pains with losing some older starters, but the younger guys have stepped up and played well."

Against Hopewell, Blackhawk needed nine innings to win the first game, 3-2, and followed up with a 2-1 decision in the second game.

After losing, 9-1, last Saturday night, Blackhawk took a 5-2 lead into the sixth inning the next day and looked to close out the series with a win. The fourth game, however, was suspended Sunday night because of rain and scheduled to resume Monday evening. Blackhawk held on to that lead and in so doing clinched the county championship.

"Hopewell is a very good team," Amalia said. "They have a good group of players from the high school team who really kept improving. They are well coached and we expected this to be a close series."

Both Blackhawk and Hopewell earned spots in the regional tournament and will represent Beaver County beginning Saturday in Connellsville.

McKay, who captivated the WPIAL during the recent high school season with his scoreless innings pitched streak, did have a hand in helping the team reach the championship series. In his final appearance this summer against Beaver Falls, McKay tossed a no-hitter.

"It was a typical Brendan no-hitter with 13 strikeouts," Amalia said. "You hate to see him leave. With everything he's accomplished and all he did for the program, it's sad to see him go.

"The good thing is guys have filled in. We're 3-1 without him and that's saying a lot for the kids."

Entering the regional tournament, Amalia still has a wealth of strong pitchers in Duncan Miklos, Rich Rowe, Dante Parente, Seth Richard and Nate Picoquidio. Parente, who was the high school team's No. 2 pitcher behind McKay, is 4-1 with two saves and carries a 1.90 ERA. Miklos is 5-0 with a 2.20 ERA, while Rowe was 4-0 with a 0.86 ERA.

"When playing with wooden bats, you have to have good pitching and be able to field the ball," Amalia said. "That's really the key. When you have an opportunity, you also have to do the little things right, like laying down a bunt when you have to."

Defensively, Amalia has catcher Hunter Alexander, Parente and Nick Zuchelli at first base, second baseman Joe Campagna, third baseman Adam Robinson and shortstop Forrest Beighley. Rowe, Miklos, Picoquidio and Thomas Piccione usually share time in Blackhawk's outfield.

Campagna has been the team's top hitter, batting .388 with 18 RBIs. Parente followed with a .373 average with 16 RBIs.

"We weren't really sure what type of team we would have," Amalia said. "We always go with that next-man-up approach. We knew we had to get some of these kids some experience and let them go do it."

Last summer, Blackhawk's American Legion team went 26-6 and captured both county and region championships before advancing to the state tournament. Blackhawk's state run, however, lasted only three games after it lost to Chester County's champion Downingtown.

"We do have some returning guys who played in that state playoffs last year in Rich Rowe, Joe Campagna, Dante Parente, Duncan Miklos and Forrest Beighley. Those guys have played well all year and continued playing well in the regional tournament and in the state playoffs."

During the recent high school season, Amalia's Cougars won their ninth section title since 2002 and reached the WPIAL Class AAA title game for the sixth time. They finished 15-4 after losing in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

"Our players keep getting better," Amalia said. "Playing American Legion only makes your high school team better. We have a good opportunity to see our younger kids play. And now with the playoffs, we can see them play under some pressure, which also is a big plus for them."

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