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North Hills punches ticket to WPIAL baseball 5A championship game

It was a long wait, 44 years in fact, since North Hills last made it to the WPIAL baseball semifinals back in 1974. The Indians didn't wait long at all to cement their spot in the title game.

North Hills scored early, poured on the runs late and defeated West Allegheny, 11-4, in a WPIAL Class 5A semifinal at North Allegheny.

North Hills will take on Mars in the title game at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Wild Things Park.

“Were not done yet,” said North Hills coach Randy Miller. “This team’s hungry and we want to go get it.”

West Allegheny sophomore standout Austin Hendrick, a Mississippi State recruit, got off to a rough start on the mound. His first five pitches were out of the strike zone and he walked two while North Hills put up three runs in the top of the first.

J.T. Mazula smacked a two-run triple to the left-center field gap. Then, pinch-runner Tyler Brennan scored after a West Allegheny error.

“That gave us some breathing room,” Mazula said of coming out strong. “Hits are contagious and they keep coming. That’s what happened today.”

Shea Downing answered for West Allegheny by knocking in Hendrick in the bottom of the first.

The bats were silent for the next three innings until Downing took to the mound and replaced Hendrick, who struck out six in four innings, but never had control of the game. North Hills capitalized by pounding multiple extra base hits and plating six runs. Steven Miller and Mazula had RBI doubles before Jordan Pitchford cracked a two-run triple off the right field fence for the relentless North Hills attack, which plated two more in the sixth.

“If you grind and you compete, good things are going to happen,” Mazula said.

Senior lefty Beau Braunlich started and got the win for North Hills. He struck out six — including Hendrick — and settled in as the game wore on.

“He figured out his curveball and slider and that was a confidence builder,” said Mazula, who plays catcher.

Knocking off a program like West Allegheny, which has won three WPIAL championships in coach Bryan Cornell’s 15 years, was quite the accomplishment for an upstart program.

“I was telling coach Cornell that years ago that was the kind of program I wanted to run and now we’re playing for a championship,” said Miller.

Other semifinal

The bus carrying the Mars baseball team left without coach Andy Bednar and his son, Will, after the Planets picked up a 4-0 semifinal win against Hampton at North Allegheny.

Before they pull out for the next game, it would be wise to make sure the bus is full of Bednars.

Ace pitcher Will Bednar struck out 12 and scattered five hits in a shutout performance that put the Planets in the WPIAL championship game against North Hills.

The Planets provided run support with a three-run fourth, then tacked on the final run in the fifth frame.

After flirting with a district title in recent years, Bednar and his squad are itching to bring home the trophy.

“Two years ago we lost in the semis and last year we lost in the finals,” said coach Bednar. “The kids are excited and hopefully this time we bring home the gold.”

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