Tigers Outlast Panthers In Rain-Soaked Season Opener, 3-2

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Photo Gallery by Tyler Eyerman

On a soggy Friday afternoon in Wexford, the North Allegheny baseball team opened the 2024 season with a 3-2 victory over the Upper St. Clair Panthers in a non-section contest.

The Tigers and Panthers met for the first time since the 2022 WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinals when seventh-seeded USC upset second-seeded NA, 5-1, in extra innings. Now playing in separate classifications, the teams collided for an early season tune-up with the Tigers earning a measure of revenge.

On a pitching staff well-stocked with aces, West Virginia University commit J.D. Costanzo got the starting nod in the season opener and silenced Upper St. Clair with four scoreless innings and eight strikeouts. With two games already under their belt, the Panthers turned to their No. 4 pitcher in the rotation and Waynesburg University commit, Nick Manko. The right-hander kept NA off the board in the first two innings before the Tigers came through in the third and fourth innings with crucial two-out bases hits.

In the bottom of the third inning, senior Andrew Dixon, who reached base three times on the day, started a rally with a one-out single and was substituted by courtesy runner Sean O’Donnell.  Following a foul out by the next batter, senior Matthew Parreaguirre was hit by a pitch, putting runners at first and second base. With two outs in the frame, senior Owen Schall laced a lined double to deep left field, plating both O’Donnell and Parreaguirre for a 2-0 lead. For driving home the first runs of the 2024 season, Schall was named the Wright Automotive Player of the Game.

The Tigers added on to the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning on another two-out hit. Junior Mason Smith deposited a two-out fly ball into right field to score senior Charles Mau and the NA advantage increased to 3-0.

Junior southpaw Jackson Walsh came out of the bullpen and tossed a scoreless fifth inning before USC capitalized on a North Allegheny error for an unearned run in the top of the sixth. After an errant throw advanced Cooper Stutzman to third base with one out, an RBI groundout by Aiden Crochier trimmed the Tigers lead to 3-1. While the Panthers finally scratched a run across the plate, they wouldn’t get any more in the inning when a strong throw by catcher Dixon nabbed a runner trying to steal second base and the Panthers threat was thwarted.

In the top of the seventh inning, Eli Mandler led off with a triple to deep right field and scored when Eli Rankin drove a line drive to right field that was dropped. The three-base error not only cut the NA lead to 3-2, but allowed Rankin to reach third with nobody out. That’s when Walsh buckled down and delivered a critical strike out for the inning’s first out, and induced a weak groundout with the infield playing up for the second out of the frame. Walsh positioned himself for a potential game-ending strikeout against Thomas Medwig, jumping out to a 1-2 count. Rather than let Medwig swing away, who was already 0-for-2 with a pair weak groundouts on the day, the Panthers gambled by sending Rankin on attempted surprise steal of home plate. The Tigers were ready, however, and Walsh delivered an accurate toss home to Dixon, who tagged out Rankin for the game’s final out with the potential game-tying run just inches away from scoring.

With three innings of relief, Walsh allowed two unearned runs and struck out a pair of batters to earn his first varsity save. Costanzo was the winning pitcher, tallied his first win of the season and improved to 7-4 in his North Allegheny career. Manko suffered the loss for USC, permitting three runs in four innings with four strikeouts, two walks and two hit batsmen.

Following the season-opening win, North Allegheny will host Central Catholic on Monday at 4:00 p.m. for another non-section fray. The game will be broadcast live by the North Allegheny Sports Network.

Line Score - Baseball vs. Upper St. Clair - 03/22/2024

Score by Innings1234567RHE
Upper St. Clair0000011250
North Allegheny0021000352
WP - J.D. Costanzo (1-0) LP - Nick Manko (0-1) SV - Jackson Walsh (1)