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Trib Cup: Carmichaels baseball motivated by WPIAL championship loss

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, June 5, 2014 3:48 p.m
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Carmichaels' Brandon Lawless delivers a pitch to California's Jacob Columbus during the first inning of the WPIAL Class A championship game Tuesday, May 27, 2014, at Consol Energy Park.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Carmichaels right fielder Reed Long makes a leaping catch during the WPIAL Class A championship game against California Thursday, May 29, 2014, at Consol Energy Park.

The result of the WPIAL Class A baseball title game will be in the back of Scott VanSickle’s mind for years to come.

The controversial postponement and re-start of the game in the fourth inning between Carmichaels and California will not, however, detract from what his Mighty Mikes accomplished this season.

“Even a few days later, I still have some of the same thoughts about how that situation was handled,” VanSickle said. “Five or 10 years from now, I’ll still think about it.”

With the score tied at one heading into the fourth, Carmichaels pitcher Brandon Lawless trotted to the mound before getting into trouble. The game was called after a storm moved in and, according to WPIAL rules, Lawless was not allowed to pitch when the game resumed the following day because he pitched more than three innings.

California went on to win 6-1 and conclude an unbeaten WPIAL season. Carmichaels was given new life as it qualified for the PIAA playoffs and won 5-4 over Southern Fulton in the first round Monday at Somerset.

The Mighty Mikes are this week’s Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are part of the reason why Carmichaels is in sixth place in the Class A standings.

VanSickle — while difficult to put the loss behind him — attempted to use the championship game as a rallying cry to reinvigorate his group and regain focus on the task of winning a state title.

“We tried to sell the kids on rallying to make up for that game,” he said. “It’s hard to tell 15- to 18-year olds to put it past them just like that.

“But things happen for a reason, and we’re still playing in states and California got knocked out.”

VanSickle is in his fourth year at the helm and is in the unique position of seeing a group of seniors mature and evolve from “scrawny” freshmen to talented, goal-oriented seniors ready to move on and take on life.

The four-year evolution started on the mound.

Senior pitcher Lawless has been the Mighty Mikes’ workhouse. VanSickle said his constant climb from a freshman just learning the game to a dominant senior was a transformation he was honored to witness.

“Brandon is one of those kids that has an arm that God just puts on some kids and they can do it with natural ability,” he said. “He made me two promises before the year and that was to win the WPIAL and get to states.

“We made it to the WPIALs and we’re in the states, so I’m hoping he can deliver a few more games.”

Senior shortstop Ty Cole and outfielder Ryan Zalar have been consistent contributors over the years. VanSickle said Cole — the team captain and a four-year starter — is a coach on the field and one of the most reliable players he’s coached.

Zalar is a WPIAL wrestling champion who is enlisting in the military after graduation and carries leadership qualities that VanSickle said will be hard to replace.

Junior catcher Mike Blasinsky has hit over .500 for VanSickle in consecutive years while controlling the game from behind the plate. Sophomores Billy Bowlen and Michael Ludrosky came on strong this year and will be contributors for years to come.

When asked how he wants his seniors to be remembered and how much they mean to his coaching career, VanSickle was hard-pressed to put into words how much they meant to him.

VanSickle may be able to come up with a better answer should the Mighty Mikes play a few more high school baseball games. But their unique bond is something he said he’ll surely cherish.

“They’re a real special group that I won’t forget, but I don’t want them to be done playing baseball here for another week or so,” he said. “I knew a lot of these kid as seventh and eighth graders, so to see them grow into what they’ve become has been a privilege.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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