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North Hills, Mars to meet in WPIAL Class 5A baseball final

It was the era of bell-bottomed pants and 45-cent per gallon gasoline. It was 1974 — the last time North Hills made the WPIAL baseball finals. It was so long ago that West View Park was still around. But North Hills is headed to Washington's Wild Things Park Wednesday for the Class 5A finals against Mars at 5 p.m. The Indians (19-3) qualified for the championship game with an 11-4 victory over West Allegheny Thursday night in the semifinals. “It's been a blast,” sixth-year coach Randy Miller said of his team's playoff drive. “People are calling me to offer congratulations, but credit goes to our kids; it's the players.” Conversely, Mars hasn't had a long wait to get back to the title game. The Planets were there just last season when Mars lost to Latrobe, 6-2, in between the raindrops along I-70. “Two years ago we lost in the semis,” Mars coach Andy Bednar said. “Last year we lost to Latrobe, so it's about taking that next step. We're expecting a real dogfight.” The Planets have made the playoffs eight consecutive seasons. The teams split Section 1 encounters this season with North Hills winning the first game 4-1, before Mars collected a 9-0 victory late in the regular season. Even with the familiarity, neither coach wants to look back, even at the recent past. “We're enjoying it,” Miller said of the playoff run. “We keep our eyes on the windshield, not on the rear view mirror.” “You always have to be prepared no matter who you play,” Bednar said. The Mars coach feels the turning point of the season might have been a 2-1 loss against Kiski Area. “What sticks out was that loss to Kiski,” Bednar said. “We seemed to be spiraling down a little bit. I thought from that point on, we really got the pitching with Will (Bednar) and Frank Craska.” The Planets are riding an eight-game winning streak. Miller credits senior leadership for his team's rise. “We have 11 seniors who have been unbelievable,” Miller said. “We don't have a team captain. We lead by example. Of our 11 seniors, they know we can only put nine on the field at once. They know their roles.” No matter what happens Wednesday, North Hills has qualified for the PIAA playoffs for the first time. Two newcomers have fueled the Mars rise. “Our freshman shortstop Jon Wetherholt started the season on the JVs,” Bednar said. “He's performed well wherever we've put him in the lineup. We have another freshman, Mitchell Schultz. He's our designated hitter, and he's getting more and more confident facing varsity pitching.” No one will be surprised if the game turns into a pitcher's duel. Junior Will Bednar, whom many think could go in the major league baseball draft next year, will be on the hill for Mars. The coach's son fired a two-hitter against Hampton in a 4-0 victory last Thursday, allowing just one runner to reach second base. North Hills will have Joey Pusateri, who has faced Mars three times in the last two seasons and limited Franklin Regional to a pair of hits in a May 22 playoff game. He has a 6-1 record with a 1.40 ERA and 54 strikeouts. George Guido is a freelance writer.

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