Section championships are nice, but at , they’re merely a step along the way.
Even though its last WPIAL title came in 2001, Highlanders softball has been a perennial contender for Western Pennsylvania’s top high-school softball prize seemingly every year since it’s been offered. The 2001 crown, after all, was the program’s 10th in 17 years, including back-to-back championships in 1985 and 1986, three in a row from 1989 to 1991 and four straight from 1993 to 1996.
Now 10 years since their last WPIAL crown, the Highlanders have been aiming since day one this year to celebrate that decade-long championship anniversary with another title.
“We definitely think that we’re the most talented (team) in the WPIAL,” said Sam Hovanec, the young and confident first-year head coach at Baldwin in with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch. “We’re trying to get to the WPIAL championship (game) and win it, and I think we have the talent to do so.”
Hovanec’s not the only one who sees that talent. The WPIAL selected Baldwin as one its top four seeds for the 2011 AAAA postseason tournament, which starts Monday afternoon with first-round games between lower-seeded schools.
No. 3 Baldwin (10-3 overall), No. 2 Hempfield Area (17-0) and No. 1 Shaler Area (15-1) high schools are the three teams with first-round byes in that tournament. No. 4 Franklin Regional High School (11-4) will have to play a first-round game.
Lower-seeded North Allegheny (14-4) and (8-5) high schools will also play an opening-round game. North Allegheny and Peters will play at Kennedy Township’s Fairhaven Park on Monday at 4 p.m. with the winner to face Baldwin in the WPIAL quarterfinals at a time and place to be determined.
To say that AAAA’s Section 4 was hotly contested this year would be a substantial understatement. Baldwin captured that section’s crown in its last section game of the season, edging , 7-6, on May 9. Canon-Mac finished the season 6-4 in section play to tie Peters and Mount Lebanon High School for second place, each school a game behind Baldwin’s 7-3 mark.
Though the top three teams in each of the WPIAL’s four sections earn an automatic trip to the playoffs, Section 4 got all four of its top teams in, which speaks volumes to the level of competition that Baldwin has faced all year.
Mount Lebanon, officially in fourth place in Section 4 this year after tiebreakers, earned the final 2011 playoffs spot after winning the WPIAL title just a year ago.
Baldwin won the Section 4 crown this year despite being swept by Mount Lebanon, 1-2 and 2-9. The Highlanders did sweep Canon-Mac, though, also winning, 4-3, in the teams’ first tilt, and split with Peters, 12-0, 3-8.
“We’re planning to win WPIALs,” said Lauterbach . “Coach preaches it. All of us believe it, and we are gonna win WPIALs.”
The WPIAL champion and runner-up will earn a spot in the PIAA playoffs.