May 23—As the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A baseball playoffs, Mars and Gateway were expected to play a close and competitive game.
That's just what happened May 19 at North Allegheny.
The contest ended in a walk-off as JJ Wethereholt singled in the bottom of the seventh as the Planets advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-3 victory.
"(Starter) Floyd (McKenna) pitched very well," Gateway coach Mark Wardzinski said. "He kept us in the game. He kept their top hitters under control. I think each one of their one through four hitters had only one hit apiece. But their hitters got timely hits. They put the ball in play, and when we made an error, they capitalized on it."
Gateway wrapped up its season at 7-7. The Gators scored twice in the first and added a run in the second to lead 3-0.
But the Planets answered with two in the bottom of the second and tied it with a run in the bottom of the sixth to set up the final-inning drama.
Gateway battled through a roller-coaster regular season, including a six-day covid pause in the heart of the schedule, to finish tied for second place in Section 1 with Penn-Trafford at 6-4.
The Gators and Warriors split their season series.
Latrobe was one-half game back in the standings at 5-4, and Gateway swept the Wildcats. Latrobe topped Plum, 8-7, in the WPIAL first round.
"There was just a lot of inconsistency when it came to practices and games," Wardzinski said. "It was tough to get into a groove a lot of times. But the guys were upbeat all season. When we were working out and practicing, they were determined."
Wardzinski said his five seniors will be missed.
"This senior group was really dedicated to team success," Wardzinski said. "Losing guys who have been starters for the past two or three seasons like Joe Schulte and Luke Jackson; they are definitely going to be missed in the lineup. The effort also from Angelo (Ross), Chase (Frenchik) and Justin (Longo), you couldn't ask any more from them. They were big-time role players throughout the season. They helped us get to where we were with an opportunity in the playoffs."
Wardzinski said with the season overall and the specific sting of the playoff loss still so fresh in his mind, it was hard for him to give a comprehensive look to next season.
But he knows to expect a strong nucleus around which to build. Starters and major contributors returning include McKenna, fellow juniors Will Roper, Ryan Greggerson, Carson Engleka and Grady Otterman, sophomore Nate Demchak, and freshman Taili Thompson.
McKenna had the lowest ERA on the team at 1.25.
Demchak led the underclassmen players in batting at .325 with seven RBIs and 10 runs scored. Greggerson and Joe Schulte tied for the team lead with 12 RBIs.
Wardzinski said a majority of the team members, including a couple of the seniors, are expected to remain together for games this summer.
The Gators were a part of last summer's Western Pennsylvania Summer Baseball League, which grew from the covid cancellation of the 2020 high school spring season.
"We're getting that started in a few weeks, and we've already scheduled about a dozen games with other high school teams," Wardzinski said.
"We hope to get around 16 games total. We really want to keep this league going. It was a big success last year. It's a great way to give the seniors one more chance to play and also get a good look at what you have coming back."
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .