Twenty years ago, a group of talented Central baseball players set a lofty goal at the beginning of the season: win a PIAA championship. On June 19, 2002, with a 4-1 victory over Schuykill Haven, these teammates became PIAA Section A champions.
After the game, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette characterized the win as an instructional video to playing fundamental baseball. But that’s how coach Jack Korpar C’81 taught them to play.
“We drilled them on fundamentals, and we played small ball,” recalled Korpar. “To win you have to be lucky and good. We weren’t pounding the ball all over the field, but we had solid players up and down the lineup. We just kept finding the holes and capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes.”
The team started on the road to the championship by bowing out of the 2001 PIAA playoffs in the first round. In 2002, they won their fourth section title in five years, then marched through the WPIAL playoffs, only losing to Neshannock in the championship game at PNC Park. Still, they earned a spot in the PIAA playoffs.
The Centurions did not disappoint; they won all four games in the PIAA. Shortstop Warren Schaeffer C’03 was one of the stars who propelled the team. Warren was two for three with three RBIs. He scored the fourth run by stealing home in the fifth inning. With Schaeffer on third after driving in two with a triple, Coach Korpar called for a squeeze bunt by Nate Miller C’02 (the winning pitcher). Miller missed the bunt, but Warren got such a good jump, he slid into home safely.
Schaeffer made a great defensive play to save a run in the first inning. Justin Miller of Schuykill Haven was attempting to steal third base, and the throw from Centurion catcher Mike Venditti C’05 to third baseman Blase Caranese C’02 was wild. Miller tried to score, but Schaeffer, leaning on his fundamentals, backed up the play. His throw back to Venditti beat Miller by twenty feet and saved a run. Venditti redeemed himself by throwing out three Schuykill runners attempting to steal, picking one off late in the game to help seal the win for the Centurions.
Tom Kimble C’02 and Rob Altieri C’03 figured in both RBI hits by Schaeffer. Kimble doubled in the third, was advanced by Altieri’s bunt, and scored on Schaeffer’s hit. In the fifth inning, Kimble walked and was advanced on Altieri’s hit-and-run single. They both scored on Schaeffer’s triple.
The win gave GCC baseball its first PIAA title and a small group of Centurions earned a place in Greensburg Central Catholic history.