Tigers Win Extra-Inning Thriller Over Rival Rams In WPIAL Semifinals, 5-4

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North Allegheny trailed most of the night but rallied to tie the game in the seventh and prevailed in eight innings, 5-4, over rival Pine-Richland in the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals at Boyce Mayview Park on Tuesday night. Junior Michael Hershberger‘s pinch-hit two-run single in the top of the eighth inning provided the winning margin for the Tigers, who advance to the WPIAL championship game next week.

In the regular season, Pine-Richland took two out of three games against North Allegheny to win the Section 1-6A title. All three regular-season games were decided by two runs or less, with the Rams winning the section crown in walk-off fashion in the rubber match of the series. Tuesday’s playoff contest proved to be another nail-biter between the neighborhood rivals.

In their first playoff meeting since North Allegheny defeated Pine-Richland in the 2019 PIAA quarterfinals, 4-1, at La Roche University, the Rams struck first in the bottom of the first inning. With runners at the corners, junior Anthony Mengine raced home from third base on a passed ball to give PR a 1-0 lead.

North Allegheny answered back in the top of the second inning when senior catcher Andrew Dixon drove in junior Miles Pealer with a sacrifice fly to knot the score at 1-1.

Starting pitcher Nico Varlotta worked six innings and struck out six batters.

The deadlock didn’t last long as Anthony Annichine’s RBI single and a fielder’s choice RBI by Mengine in the bottom of the second inning propelled the Rams to a 3-1 advantage. Pine-Richland threatened for more with the bases loaded and one out, but a mound visit by head coach Andrew Heck with starting pitcher Nico Varlotta proved to be the turning point in the contest. The WVU commit, who had walked four batters to that point in the game, buckled down and induced an inning-ending double play to limit the damage to a two-run frame for the Rams.

From that point on, Varlotta didn’t allow another hit over the next four innings and struck out six batters to keep North Allegheny within striking distance.

With Varlotta holding PR at bay, the Tigers began to chip away. In the top of the fourth inning, Pealer led off with a single and scored later in the inning on an RBI double by Dixon, trimming the deficit to 3-2. Pealer reached base three times with a 2-for-3 performance with a double, a walk and three runs scored. Dixon went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs.

With Pine-Richland starting pitcher Reece Rupert scuffling in the first four innings, the Rams turned to the bullpen and hard-throwing lefthander Tyler Vogel. The southpaw tossed three scoreless innings of relief before the Tigers were able to finally break through in the top of the seventh. With two outs and the bases loaded, Varlotta drove a line drive through the right side of the infield for a game-tying RBI single to score Carter Boehm and the game was deadlocked at 3-3.

After the Rams went scoreless in the bottom of the seventh against reliever Cole Suba, North Allegheny surged ahead for the first time in the top of the eighth inning. With runners at second and third and one out, Hershberger was asked to pinch hit and delivered a clutch two-run single to give the Tigers a 5-3 advantage. For his timely and heroic base hit, Hershberger was named the Wright Automotive Player of the Game.

Cole Suba celebrates his game-ending strikeout to advance the Tigers into the WPIAL championship game.

In the bottom of the eighth, Pine-Richland capitalized on a leadoff error and cut the NA lead to 5-4 thanks to a one-out RBI single by Sam Heckert. Suba, a Penn State Altoona commit, secured the victory by striking out Annichine with runners at first and second for the game’s final out, and the Tigers hung on for a 5-4 victory.

Suba was the winning pitcher, allowing only one unearned run in two innings of relief. Vogel took the loss for Pine-Richland, surrendering three runs in five innings out of the bullpen.

North Allegheny improves to 16-6 overall, while Pine-Richland’s season ends with a 17-5 mark. The Tigers advance to the WPIAL championship game to face Mt. Lebanon in a rematch of last year’s title tilt. The game can be heard live by the North Allegheny Sports Network.

Line Score - Baseball vs. Pine-Richland - 05/21/2024

Score by Innings12345678RHE
North Allegheny010100125112
WP - Cole Suba (4-1) LP - Tyler Vogel (2-2)