T-D HS Baseball

North Star senior Tony Strasiser has been one of the top offensive players in the PIAA this season. Strasiser is batting .639 with 41 RBI.
Bishop McCort pitcher Nathan Neiderhiser has been a driving force for the defending state champion. He’s batting .437 with a 5-1 record.

Class A powers Bishop McCort, North Star meet in first round of PIAA playoffs

By: Mike Mastovich

JOHNSTOWN — Defending state champion Bishop McCort and returning state semifinalist North Star have much in common entering today’s PIAA Class A playoff game at First Commonwealth Bank Field in Homer City.
The 6-A champion Crushers (19-4) have plenty of postseason experience, a fact supported by last year’s run to the PIAA title.
So does undefeated 5-A champion North Star (21-0). The Cougars made it to the Class AA state semifinals a year ago and return most of that squad.
“It is a matchup with two pretty good teams. We’re excited about this,” said North Star coach Chris Evans, whose Cougars blanked Meyersdale, 10-0, in the 5-A title game on Thursday at Shanksville.
Each team will bring three standout pitchers into today’s 1 p.m. contest.
McCort leans on three juniors in left-hander Nathan Neiderhiser and righties Brad Coleman and Justin Vardian.
The Cougars also are three deep on the mound with senior righty Brantley Rice, junior left-hander Shane Supanick and senior righty Tony Strasiser.
“Both teams have plenty of playoff experience,” McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “Both teams have some great individual players and some great leaders.”
North Star has been perfect through the regular season and district playoffs.
The Cougars are led by Strasiser, a 6-foot-6 center fielder/pitcher whose .639 batting average (39-of-61) is among the best in the state. Strasiser has 46 runs, 26 stolen bases, seven doubles, four triples, seven homers and 41 RBI.
“Look at the guys they’ve counted on all year, and you see they’ve been able to produce throughout the lineup,” Pfeil said of the Cougars. “Tony Strasiser is a Division I-caliber baseball player. He’s a big threat in the middle. He runs well. He is a big key to their offense.
“Just the same, you have other guys there like Brantley Rice batting over .400, Derek Mullen over .400 and Dalton Rice close to .400. Brady Shroyer and Shane Supanick both have over 20 RBI. They’re going to get pretty deep in their batting order with guys who can be threats.”
McCort’s lineup has similar traits.
Neiderhiser (.437), Luke Williams (.473) and Coleman (.411) each hit over .400, and Zaine Tomkowski is at .383. The Crushers use their speed to attack the opposition. McCort has 95 stolen bases on 110 attempts, including Vardian nabbing 13 of 15 attempts, Nemo Trexler stealing on 10 of 11 tries and Neiderhiser being perfect in 10 attempts.
“The thing I was impressed with them was their baserunning,” Evans said of the Crushers. “They take advantage of opponents’ defenses by stealing bases and running. We’re going to be prepared for that this year, which we weren’t last year.”
McCort beat North Star 7-3 in a 2012 regular-season game at Point Stadium.
“Last year when we faced off against them, we didn’t do so hot,” Evans said. “We’ve been wanting to play them again in a rematch. It didn’t pan out because of a scheduling conflict. They play a lot of really good teams. They’re excellent on he basepaths.”
Evans counted on Supanick to pitch the 5-A title game. He struck out 11 Meyersdale batters in five innings. Rice closed the sixth and fanned two more in the mercy-rule shortened game.
Rice (9-0, 1.23 ERA, 87 strikeouts, 20 walks), Supanick (6-0, 0.91 ERA, 78 strikeouts, 14 walks) and Strasiser (5-0, 1.05 ERA, 40 strikeouts, 11 walks) have provided a triple threat on the mound.
“I’ll most likely throw Brantley Rice with Supanick in relief,” Evans said. “It’s nice to have a righty-lefty match up for us.”
Pfeil has relied on three arms for much of the season with Neiderhiser (5-1, 1.56 ERA, 69 strikeouts, 23 walks), Vardian (5-1, 3.43 ERA, 46 strikeouts, 26 walks) and Coleman (6-2, 4.28 ERA, 43 strikeouts, 12 walks). Both Neiderhiser and Vardian, who Pfeil plans to start, had a significant amount of work in Thursday’s 7-6 comeback win over Claysburg-Kimmel at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
In the title game, McCort fell behind 5-1 until scoring four to tie it in the fifth and two more in the sixth to edge the Bulldogs.
“Both staffs are very deep. Unfortunately for both of us, we’re coming off district championship games that were played on Thursday,” Pfeil said. “That will come into play. I think both teams have plenty of guys they can go to depth-wise. It should be as good of a high school baseball game as you’re going to see.”
Evans agreed.
“I’m not anticipating a high-scoring ballgame,” the Cougars coach said. “We’ll do what we’ve been trying to do all year long – play mistake-free baseball, stay disciplined at the plate and wait for good pitches. Don’t give them runs. Make them earn them. Be fundamentally sound. If we make mistakes they’re a team that’s going to capitalize.”
Today’s winner will meet the winner of a first-round game between District 7 champion Western Beaver (19-2) and District 9 runner-up Johnsonburg. That quarterfinal game will be played on Thursday.