HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL: McKay, top seed Blackhawk oust Indiana from WPIAL playoffs
BUTLER — For the bulk of Saturday’s WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal-round playoff game, Indiana ace Sean Thompson looked every bit as dominant as highly-touted Blackhawk recruit Brendan McKay.
Unfortunately for Thompson, a future Division I player in his own right, a defensive lapse behind him in the bottom of the sixth inning spoiled his chances of winning the most significant game of his high school baseball career.
Blackhawk struggled for five innings against Thompson before capitalizing on two costly errors in the sixth to score four runs, plenty for McKay, and pull away in a tied game for a 4-0 win at Pullman Park.
Tenth-seeded Indiana concluded its season with a 13-8 mark. The Indians finished second in Section 2-AAA.
Top-seeded Blackhawk (13-2), the Section 1-AAA champs, will face the winner of the quarterfinal-round game between Elizabeth Forward and West Mifflin on Wednesday in the WPIAL semifinals.
McKay, a University of Louisville recruit, struck out 16 and walked two in a two-hitter. McKay hasn’t surrendered a run in 65 innings, giving him the third longest streak of its kind in high school baseball history.
Thompson struck out 11 and walked two and finished with a three-hitter.
“I feel like we have four strong starters that can throw against anyone, but when we have Sean on the mound we have a good chance to win,” first-year Indiana coach Ryan Davies said. “We had chances and it could have gone the other way there had we just put a few more balls in play. It’s difficult to say one play here or one play there prevented us from winning the game. We just didn’t give Sean a pad and that’s why we were in that situation.”
With the game scoreless, Chase Migliore led off the sixth inning for Blackhawk by reaching base on an error.
McKay, the following batter, legged out an infield single and Migliore advanced to third.
After Joe Capagna struck out, Cody Bain, the next batter, reached base on an error. Migliore scored on the error to make it 1-0, and McKay’s courtesy runner, Thomas Piccone, advanced to third.
Thompson seemingly escaped the jam after striking out the next two batters, Jake Emge and Dante Parente. However, when Thompson struck out Parente swinging, the third strike slipped past catcher Cole Shaffer, allowing Parente to reach first and Piccone to score to make it 2-0.
Then, on the following at-bat, Duncan Miklos saw Indiana second baseman Ryan Creps covering the bag at second and drilled a Thompson pitch on the ground into the right-center field gap to score Bain and Parente and extend Blackhawk’s lead to 4-0.
Rather than blaming his teammates, Thompson admitted that he made one too many mistakes against a potent lineup.
“They’re a great team and he’s (McKay) awesome so you have to be on top of your game because if you’re not they’ll burn you like that,” Thompson said. “We knew we had to play the perfect game. It just didn’t work out for us in the end.”
McKay struck out the side in the first and fifth innings. He also struck out two of the three batters he faced in each of the second and seventh innings.
Thompson and Creps were the only Indiana players who managed to get past first. Thompson doubled before being stranded on second in the fourth, and Creps walked before getting left on third in the seventh.
Trent Ream mustered Indiana’s only other hit, a single in the second.
“He’s obviously a great pitcher,” Davies said. “He’s definitely a Division I pitcher, and he’s not just up there throwing hard. He knows the game, he knows how to pitch (and) he knows how to locate pitches. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself and he should. I think he has confidence in his fielders, too, and that shows by their record. They’re a pretty good team even when he’s not on the mound.”
Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia used plenty of superlatives regarding McKay, but used just as many to describe Thompson, a Virginia Commonwealth University recruit.
“That’s one of the best teams around and that’s the best pitcher we’ve faced all season, by far,” Amalia said. “The one thing we had going was he was on three days’ rest, so we were really just trying to put the ball in play. We knew if we could put the ball in play good things would happen, and we did that. That was definitely the key to beating him.”
In 2011, as a freshman, McKay threw a four-hit shutout to knock the Indians out of the first round of the playoffs with a 2-0 win. McKay not only drove in both of Blackhawk’s runs in that game, he also outdueled Indiana’s Jay Roberto, who tossed a three-hitter.
“I can’t remember anyone, on my team or another team, in the last 15 years that I’ve coached that I’d rather have on the mound than Brendan,” Amalia said. “Did I know he was going to strike out 16 and shut them out? No, but every time he goes out there you feel like you have a chance to win.”