When Lou Cortazzo was named interim baseball coach at Penn-Trafford two weeks before the season began, people around the district were stunned at the timing.
Cortazzo replaced Dan Miller as coach, and despite the sudden change the goals stayed the same: make the WPIAL playoffs, win the section, qualify for the PIAA playoffs, win the WPIAL championship and win the PIAA championship. So far the Warriors have checked off three of the five goals.
The Warriors, section co-champions with rival Plum, qualified for the PIAA Class 5A playoffs that begin Monday by defeating Plum, 3-1, on May 31.
“Things got a little loud,” Cortazzo said. “It was an intense game.”
Now the Warriors travel to Lock Haven University for a 4 p.m. game against the District 6/9 champion Central Mountain (21-1) and stud right-hander Brady Myers, who is 9-0 with an ERA of 1.20. He’s walked 21 and struck out 78. Central Mountain is ranked No. 1 in the state.
Central Mountain’s only loss was to Williamsport, 4-2, on May 6. The Wildcats defeated DuBois, 6-0, in their district championship game.
The Warriors were WPIAL Class 6A runners-up in 2019, and they have made the playoffs the past seven seasons.
“We want to make a good representation for the school,” Cortazzo said. “We’ve never won a game in the state playoffs. I’m proud of the players for getting us to where we are.
“I’m excited to keep the program rolling. We return 10 starters, and I was eager to see the program continue to grow.”
It hasn’t been easy for the Warriors. They lost two key senior starters to season-ending injuries — catcher Jakob Haynes and shortstop Jake Otto — and then lost junior center fielder Jason Sabol to an injury.
Despite those losses, the Warriors have pushed on.
“These kids stepped up,” Cortazzo said. “Ian Temple did a great job in place of Jakob, Carmen Metcalfe stepped in at center field and Brayden (Stone) did a nice job at shortstop.”
Cortazzo said other players did whatever they could to help the team.
Senior pitchers Ryan Grabowski and Nolan Marasti have been stalwarts on the hill, and Grabowski, Stone, Metcalfe and junior outfielder Brody Hoffman have led the offense. Junior Ty Freas, and seniors Chuck Fontana Jr. and Peyton Bigler have come up with clutch hits, and Temple has been solid behind the plate.
“I believe our section prepared us for the playoffs,” Cortazzo said. “I feel our section is one of the toughest in the state, and the WPIAL has a lot of talented teams.
“We have to go to Lock Haven and play our game like we’ve done all season. I have a bunch of grinders who never quit. The seniors have graduated, and sometimes they check out. This group is all in, and they’re excited to play Central Mountain.”
The winner of the game plays the winner of the Shaler/Muhlenberg game June 8 at a site and time to be determined.
Along with Myers, the Wildcats are led by senior Brayden Corter, who is hitting .407 with 21 runs scored, 24 hits and 13 RBIs.
Senior pitchers Chase Brush and Cru Stover each have four wins. Brush’s ERA is 3.25 with 27 walks and 54 strikeouts.
Senior Gabe Johnson is hitting .333 with 21 RBIs, and senior Levi Schlessinger is batting .305 with 22 RBIs and six doubles.