Ken Kashatus was already feeling good after his Dallas squad had won its state semifinal on Monday. When the Mountaineers coach learned that his colleague Chris Ritsick at Holy Redeemer had just followed suit, it was time to celebrate again.
The Royals and Mounts will play for PIAA championships on Thursday and Friday in Class 3A and Class 4A, respectively, at Penn State. On Wednesday, the league had multiple alums selected in the MLB draft for the second straight year — the first time that has ever happened.
Yeah, it’s been a pretty good week for Wyoming Valley Conference baseball.
The league will look to boost its already burgeoning reputation over the next two days as the teams look to join Berwick’s 2008 squad as state champions.
“I think (the WVC) has definitely come up a notch,” said Ritsick, who has helmed the Royals for all 10 seasons of their existence and coached the former Bishop Hoban program before that. “There’s always been great talent in the league, and I think the last couple years — with more kids being drafted, more kids going Division I (for college) every year — it certainly has picked up.”
Tight competition in regular season play also has helped prepare teams for the postseason. Nine of the 10 schools in the WVC’s top two divisions (made up of 6A, 5A and 4A schools) finished within two games of each other.
And until recently, Holy Redeemer used to play up against those bigger programs in the WVC.
“In the long run, I think that makes you tougher as a coaching staff,” Kashatus said. “To know what it takes to beat teams bigger than you — and maybe have more prestige than you.
“Like us, they weren’t afraid playing Loyalsock, who’s won how many state titles. We weren’t afraid of West York, who (won in 2012 and 2013). Have respect (for those teams) all the way — and so does Chris Ritsick. But you play good teams in your division, in your conference, in your district and you have as good a chance as anyone.”
Holy Redeemer vs. Central
Class 3A championship
3 p.m., Thursday
Medlar Field, State College
The Royals have shown plenty of guts already in the postseason. They erased a two-run seventh-inning deficit against unbeaten Lakeland to win the District 2 title. They held off an emotional rally by Oley Valley in the state quarterfinals. And they won a staring contest with two-time PIAA champ Loyalsock on Monday, breaking a scoreless tie in the seventh.
Redeemer has the confidence to face anyone at this point, particularly with pitchers Tony Molitoris and Jordan Choman pitching all 40 postseason innings with an 0.88 ERA.
With Molitoris going the distance on Monday, it will be Choman getting the ball Thursday.
At the plate, someone different has stepped up in practically every game. Against Loyalsock, it was leadoff man Tucker Ell coming through with three of the Royals’ six hits and collecting the game’s lone RBI.
Choman (.368), Ell (.350), Cade Flanley (.333), Tom Borum (.316) and Tim Cavanaugh (.313) lead the team in hitting through six playoff games.
Up next is Central out of Martinsburg in District 6. The Dragons finished first in their league but lost in the district finals to Huntingdon before getting revenge in Monday’s semifinals.
This is the fourth time Central has reached the state finals and the third time since 2010, though the Dragons are still looking for their first crown.
“It’s been fun,” Ritsick said. “It really has. The kids are excited. The coaching staff is excited. They’re ready to try and finish their goal.”
Dallas vs. South Park
Class 4A championship
1 p.m., Friday
Medlar Field, State College
With any lengthy winning streak, there’s bound to be a little superstition involved.
“Just keep doing what we’re doing. Don’t change a thing,” Dallas senior J.D. Barrett said. “We haven’t changed one thing since we started on this 12-game winning streak, so there’s no reason to change anything now.
“(No lucky charms), but I have been doing the same things every day for the past month-and-a-half. So just gotta keep that going.”
Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. In six district and state playoff games, the Mounts have scored 38 runs — more than six per game — and are hitting an impressive .342 as a team.
Because the title game isn’t until Friday, No. 1 pitcher Nick Kocher will again be eligible to pitch, potentially getting his sixth start in this postseason.
Waiting for the Mounts will be WPIAL runner-up South Park. Like Central, the Eagles avenged a district title game loss in the state semifinals, hammering Blackhawk to reach Penn State.
South Park had arguably its best performance of the season at the plate on Monday, scoring 10 runs against a stingy Blackhawk team that had shut the Eagles out in the district finals.
Dallas has come a long way since its last loss — a 7-0 setback to Hazleton Area back on April 28.
That was 48 days ago.
“Just got hot at the right time,” Barrett said. “We’ve been playing good for the past 12 games. And we’ve got one more to go.”