Champion West Allegheny baseball team bought into team concept
As the West Allegheny baseball team posed for pictures and traded hugs while celebrating its WPIAL Class AAA championship late Thursday night, Blackhawk’s players stood silent and stoic along the first-base line.
Though they didn’t notice at the time — perhaps preoccupied with having actually scored on Blackhawk ace Brendan McKay — the Indians could relate. It wasn’t that long ago that they watched another team whoop it up.
Coach Bryan Cornell pointed to a 9-1 home loss to Montour on April 21 as the launching point for the Indians’ postseason success. It was embarrassing and humbling but also pivotal, said Cornell, and one of the primary reasons West Allegheny had the confidence and ability to stand toe-to-toe with McKay.
“That was the turning point of the season,” Cornell said of the Montour loss. “There were guys who really didn’t know what their role was and others who were a little bit unhappy with the role that they had.
“It was a team effort to say — especially when we got into the playoffs — that we’re going to do whatever it is that our role asks. Whether that’s filling up a water bottle, throwing batting practice or pinch-running, everyone bought into the concept. It’s been a great thing.”
The 90-minute “heart-to-heart” West Allegheny had did not take immediately as the team went 2-2 over the next 10 days. But the Indians closed the season with four straight wins, then rolled through the WPIAL playoffs, claiming their third title in the past eight years.
West Allegheny had eight hits against McKay, who hadn’t allowed a run since 2013 and came into the game with a 69-inning scoreless streak. In 45 innings prior to Thursday, McKay had given up 10 hits.
“Before the game, one of our coaches picked up a tendency,” said shortstop Tyler Amedure, who had two doubles, scored twice and was the winning pitcher. “He started it the other day. It was perfect the entire game. We stuck to it. We produced.”
The trick was McKay’s pitch sequences, Amedure said, though McKay, whose streak was snapped in the third inning at 72 1⁄3 innings, didn’t think that had anything to do with West Allegheny’s success.
“People think they get things, but it’s whatever,” McKay said. “Baseball is a funny game. Things happen.”
Another reason West Allegheny, which opens the PIAA Class AAA playoffs Monday against Punxsutawney at Pullman Park, was ready was it employed several younger left-handers as practice stand-ins for McKay. Only Cornell allowed them to throw from 45 feet instead of the usual 60 feet, 6 inches.
“They were throwing close to what he was throwing,” center fielder Michael Cummings said. “It definitely helped us a lot.”
Remember that roles talk? Apparently throwing batting practice wasn’t just Cornell blowing smoke.
Which is why, evidently, Cornell’s players took him seriously when he outlined the plan for conquering the dominant McKay, who’s likely to be chosen in the top few rounds of the MLB Draft.
Forget the first run. Just get a hit.
“Brendan no-hit us the last two times out,” Cornell said. “It wasn’t about runs. We needed to get that first hit and get that first hit early.”
West Allegheny did, and Amedure drove in courtesy runner Nic Daigle for a 1-0 lead in the third. Some confidence gained earlier this season and another Amedure RBI in the eighth kept the Indians in front, allowing them to take their turn celebrating.
“We all hit, but it’s not just one person,” Cummings said. “It’s a team effort. Everyone on the bench. Everyone who contributed this year. All the coaches, everything.”