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No. 1 is no clear path to No. 1

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The WPIAL baseball playoffs begin Monday with four strong No. 1 seeds: North Allegheny, Hopewell, South Fayette and Serra Catholic. The four teams have clearly earned those spots, but history says they won’t all leave Consol Energy Park with gold medals.

Since WPIAL baseball expanded to four classifications in 2005, only eight No. 1 seeds have won titles. That means 12 of the past 20 winners have been seeded second or lower. And never have all four No. 1 seeds won WPIAL titles in the same year.

They came close last season, though, when top-seeded North Allegheny, Shady Side Academy and Serra Catholic won titles. But No. 5 seed Moon left with the Class AAA trophy.

The lowest-seeded team to win a WPIAL baseball title since expansion was No. 12 North Catholic, which won a Class AA title in 2007.

Who could be this year’s double-digit long shots?

AAAA: No. 10 Plum (14-5) — Led by Nic Manuppelli, Zack Klein and C.J. Stotler, the Mustangs are 5-2 against Class AAAA playoff teams, including a 9-7 victory over top-seeded North Allegheny on May 1. Plum was ranked No. 1 by the Trib at one point this season.

AAA: No. 9 Greensburg Salem (13-5) — No, the Lions aren’t technically a double-digit seed, but at No. 9 they are certainly a long shot. First they have to fight through No. 8 Montour. Then they would have to face top-seeded Hopewell, which has only one loss. But the Lions could surprise, with pitcher Nate Sphon and a strong lineup.

AA: No. 10 Laurel (14-4) – The Spartans won their first 12 games behind senior Jake Dando, including wins over playoff teams Beaver Falls, Beaver and Ellwood City. But the Spartans lost three of their last four — including a forfeit for violating a PIAA rule requiring rest for pitchers — and somewhat slipped from the status as title contenders. Another win or two and Laurel could have been a Top Four seed.

A: No. 14 Carmichaels (7-12) — The season started with nine consecutive losses, yet the Mighty Mikes are back in the playoffs. The Mikes, who were WPIAL runners-up in 2009, won five of their last six games. They received a tough first-round draw in No. 3 California, a team that beat them, 16-2, on April 7.

— Chris Harlan (charlan@tribweb.com)

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