North Allegheny credits Wilson’s lefty for PIAA playoff loss instead of blaming WPIAL hangover


Monday, June 3, 2024 | 21:20

North Allegheny baseball coach Andrew Heck talked to his players about the so-called “WPIAL hangover” that has hindered championship teams for decades.

A big upset in the WPIAL finals, and then the teams fall apart in the first round of states.

“We painted that picture very clearly for our guys,” Heck said. “I always try to address the elephant in the room if there is an elephant in the room and I knew it was going to be a hangover. I told our guys, ‘Listen, we mean it right here, right now.’

That hangover might have taken its toll again Monday as North Allegheny managed just one hit and lost to Wilson, 2-0, in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A playoffs. But instead of blaming the hangover, Heck gave credit to Wilson left-hander Matt VanOstenbridge, a Penn State recruit who was outstanding in the win.

The senior needed just 84 pitches to complete the complete-game shutout. He retired the first 10 batters he faced in order, and North Allegheny’s only hit was a two-out single in the sixth inning.

“I think a lot of it had to do with that kid today,” Heck said of VanOstenbridge. “The thing that really impressed me about him was … I didn’t know he could move the ball like he did.”

PIAA District 3 No. 3 seed Wilson (16-7) is from West Lawn in Berks County.

VanOstenbridge entered with a 0.90 ERA and improved his record to 7-1.

North Allegheny starter Nico Varlotta held Wilson scoreless in the seventh inning, but the West Virginia junior reached the PIAA mark of 105 pitches with two starts and one strikeout. Wilson broke the scoreless tie with a two-out, bases-loaded single by Christo Hunsicker off reliever Charles Mau, a Penn State recruit.

It wasn’t the first time Wilson threatened to score. Varlotta stranded six runners and twice escaped jams with inning-ending double plays, once with the bases loaded in the sixth.

“Offensively, we were definitely lazy,” Heck said. “We needed to execute the running of the bases a little bit better. But I thought our defense was outstanding and I thought our pitching was outstanding today.”

Varlotta allowed five hits, two walks and struck out two. Mau, who faced four batters in relief, struck out two with a strikeout and a walk.

VanOstenbridge struck out six and walked one. He also struck out back-to-back batters in the fourth inning, which gave North Allegheny some hope when Varlotta also reached base on a throwing error to load the bases.

But VanOstenbridge escaped the jam with an inning-ending double play to remain scoreless.

“Our guy threw the game he was supposed to throw and he’s done that all year for us,” Wilson coach Bill Underwood said. “I knew if we could keep him close, a couple of hits, a walk, an error or a wild pitch, something was going to fall.”

It was the second game in a row that North Allegheny saw a Division I left-hander on the mound. But VanOstenbridge is about three inches shorter than Mt. Lebanon ace David Shields and relied more on the combination of quick ball change.

“I would say totally different than a Shields,” Heck said. “Not necessarily a power pitcher, so much as a crafty one.”

Underwood said VanOstenbridge already had a no-hitter and a one-hitter in his hitting streak earlier this season. He wasn’t on the mound when Wilson lost in the District 3 semifinals to the No. 1 seed. 1 Ephrata, 2-1.

“He’s making an incredible turnaround,” Underwood said. “If you have a lot of righties up there and you throw a changeup the way he throws it, it’s very hard to beat him.”

VanOstenbridge has a fastball that can reach the upper 80s, a changeup in the mid-70s, and also mixes in a slider and curveball. With that combination, he didn’t allow a hit or a walk through the first four innings.

“The other big thing for me was that he’s comfortable throwing any pitch in any number,” Heck said. “He didn’t miss much.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Tribe in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at [email protected].

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