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North Hills win first WPIAL baseball title with extra-inning win against Mars

Joey Pusateri will major in film and television when he begins college at DePaul University in Chicago this fall.

If Pusateri is searching for a movie idea, all he will have to do is look back on a warm, late-May evening his senior season. It was the night his hit gave his school its first WPIAL championship.

With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th inning, Pusateri — who had only five hits all season — lined a 3-2 pitch to right-center field that scored Tanner Schmitt and gave North Hills a 3-2 win against Mars in the Class 5A final at Wild Things Park in Washington, Pa.

“It was a dream come true,” Pusateri said. “It’s like when my older brother was pitching to me in the backyard. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, championship game. That’s honestly what was going through my head. As soon as it got to a full count, I was like, ‘This is literally a dream.’ ”

What makes Pusateri’s heroics stunning is that he’s not much of a hitter. On the mound, he’s North Hills’ ace and pitched seven strong innings Wednesday. He then moved over to second base, but who would have expected him to come through at the plate in such a big moment?

“I don’t even know if Coach wanted to put me in to hit. I just think he needed me at second and that’s just how the rules are,” Pusateri said, laughing.

Only four championship games in WPIAL history have gone longer than this showdown between North Hills (20-3) and Mars (15-6), but the Indians put an end to it in an inning that began with Garret Barto slugging a double off the center-field fence. Barto was replaced as a pinch-runner by Schmitt. Steven Miller was intentionally walked and J.T. Mazula laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved the runners to second and third. Tyler Zozos was also intentionally walked, bringing up Pusateri, who proceeded to bring down the house.

“We felt that we had the matchup that we wanted. He just squeezed one out and blooped it over our second baseman’s head,” Mars coach Andy Bednar said.

For seven innings, it was a pitching duel between Pusateri and Mars junior standout Will Bednar. An Ohio State recruit, Bednar pitched 6⅔ innings and his fastball was clocked as high as 95 mph. He gave up two runs, three hits and one walk while striking out 10.

Pusateri has chosen not to play baseball in college and doesn’t throw as hard as Bednar — he was often in the 60s — but was just as effective. Pusateri allowed two runs, six hits and one walk to go along with five strikeouts.

North Hills struck first in the second when Zozos had a single drop in right field. The ball was misplayed, allowing Schmitt to score.

Freshman Jon Wetherholt drove in both runs for Mars. He hit an RBI triple to tie the score in the third and came through with a sacrifice fly to put the Planets ahead, 2-1, in the fifth.

After Bednar retired 12 hitters in a row, North Hills drew even on Miller’s RBI single in the sixth.

“It was just an awesome day. I love this group,” North Hills coach Randy Miller said. “Onto states, we’ve got work to do.”

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