Wildcats, WPEBL succeed thanks to Saghy

Published Aug 7, 2013 at 12:16 pm (Updated Aug 7, 2013 at 12:16 pm)

For Mark Saghy, winning isn’t everything, but since he helped create the Western Pennsylvania Elite Baseball League in 2006, the Mt. Lebanon native certainly has experienced his share of success.

In fact, his Steel City Wildcats recently captured their fourth championship and second straight title in the WPEBL. They have been runner-up twice since the league’s inception. The Wildcats finished the summer with a 25-3 record.

After splitting the first two games in the best-of-three series, 9-0 and 4-5, the Wildcats won in dramatic fashion. Thanks to Nick Riotto’s two-out walk-off home run to right-center field, the Wildcats edged the Pittsburgh Spikes, 6-5, in the title tilt played Aug. 4 at Chartiers-Houston.

“The finals were as they should be,” said Saghy. “The top teams competing, and granted the first game was lopsided, the others were tight games, seesaw battles.”

In the championship final, the Wildcats plated three runs in the first but the Spikes came back and led, 5-3, into the bottom of the fifth frame. Gannon Rooney of Upper St. Clair smashed a solo homer to cut the margin to one. Joe Conlon, also from USC, scored the tying run off Phil Madonna’s single in the sixth. Relief pitcher Jared Skolnicki set the Spikes down in order in the seventh, setting the stage for Rooney.

The Wildcats opened the series with a 9-0 drubbing of the Spikes.

Skolnicki clubbed two doubles and a home run. The recent Keystone Oaks graduate drove in three runs. Conlon tagged a double and a homer for two RBI. With two hits each, Nick Riotto and Rooney also spearheaded the offensive attack.

AJ Olasz (five frames) and Riotto (two innings) combined for a one-hitter and eight strikes.

In the 5-4 loss to the Spikes in game two, the Wildcats were held to six hits. Zach Bahm was saddled with the pitching loss.

The Wildcats, who ripped through the regular season with a 21-2 slate to lead the league standings, swept the Pittsburgh Miners, 4-1, and 6-0, in the semifinals. They beat the Sportszone Look Outs, 4-1, and 7-2, in opening action of the playoffs.

While Bahm (5-0, 0.95 ERA), Olasz (5-0, 1.21 ERA) and Zac Manuppelli (6-0, 1.20 ERA) have been the team’s aces, Riotto, Joe McHugh and Daane Berezo have led the offensive with their .400-plus batting averages. Each scored more than 29 runs while McHugh and Riotto clubbed 11 homers between themselves and had more than 62 RBI.

While Riotto enters Penn State and Manuppelli, South Carolina Upstate this fall, Bahm, and Olasz comprise the 2014 recruiting classes at Columbia and Cincinnati respectively. McHugh is considering Kent State, Wright State, Akron and Pitt, while Derezo has offers from George Mason, VCU, Lafayette, Bucknell and Rider.

Additionally, Conlon will play baseball at Johns Hopkins and Skolnicki, The Almanac’s 2013 baseball MVP, enrolls at Kent State this fall.

Therein lies Saghy’s real success in the WPEBL.

“Mark has assisted so many high school players in reaching their dream of playing college baseball,” said Tony Fisher, who managed the Pittsburgh Miners along with Carl Nordstrom. “He runs the premier program in Western Pennsylvania. He is the architect of this league.”

A coach at Mt. Lebanon High School for seven years, including those when the Blue Devils won a WPIAL and state title, Saghy helped form the WPEBL as a means to provide the best possible opportunities for players to continue their development and increase their exposure to college coaches. He says, that although his career winning percentage exceeds .700, his most gratifying achievements resulted from helping his players find the right college program, academically and athletically.

“The objective of the league is to provide a venue for the top players to compete against one another without restrictions based upon their residency and without the demands of traveling week after week,” Saghy explained. “Along with this is the idea that top talent will attract college coaches; thereby enhancing the player’s ability to be seen and evaluated for potential college opportunities.”

In 2006, the WPEBL formed as a compromised to the demands of the players who wanted better competition than community baseball and parents who were not interested in the travel and expense of AAU-type baseball, says Saghy.

The league, whose only stipulation is that the players must be in high school, has had between eight to 12 teams in any given season over its history. Six different teams have competed for the league title and there have been four different champions.

“We’re providing a very competitive balance,” Saghy said.

As a result, the WPEBL has become a more popular option than American Legion or Palomino baseball for some players during the summer months.

“My belief,” Saghy said, “is the competition in the other leagues has been ‘watered down’; AAU and travel teams have proven to be expensive and demanding on time; our league allows players to select the team they want to play for as opposed to being placed on a team in their township; and our league promotes itself to college coaches in an effort to promote the players.

Saghy added that he has never coached a game in the league where there wasn’t at least one college scout watching.

In addition to the four aforementioned rising seniors who are receiving looks from colleges, Taylor Lehman has five considerations. The Keystone Oaks product is being pursued by Florida Gulf Coast, Creighton, Temple, Ball State and Central Michigan.

Other area talent on the Wildcats roster includes: Dominic Castello, a rising senior at Chartiers Valley; Vince Dorazio and Austin Kitchen, both of whom will graduate in 2015 from Mt. Lebanon; Phil Mary and Ryan Tassone, both of whom belong to Peters Township’s Class of 2015; and Robbie Saghy, a rising sophomore at Upper St. Clair. Additionally, Santino Platt is part of the Class of 2015 at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

Note: Steve Helmeci of Mt. Lebanon was a right-handed pitcher for the Spikes. He will graduate in 2014. Alex Pantuso and Tyler Hallonad from Baldwin were also on the club.

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