Five from area to vie for titles

Eric Reed, right, of Pope John Paul II is forced out at home but catcher Skylar Katz, left, of Harriton was unable to make the throw for a double play attempt after contact with Reed forced him to lose his balance in the 7th inning of the District 1 Class AAA baseball championship at Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth in Plymouth Meeting on May 29, 2014. ( CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )

Conestoga and La Salle are back for more. Harriton, Pope John Paul II, and Devon Prep are newcomers trying to make history.

In what is a first, five area teams will compete for state gold in the PIAA baseball finals Friday at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Conestoga will clash with La Salle for the Class AAAA crown at 1 p.m. The Pioneers took top honors in 2011; the Explorers captured the title in 2012.

In an all-District 1 state final, Harriton is pitted against Pope John Paul II in the 6 p.m. Class AAA final.

Devon Prep represents the region in Friday's Class A final. The Tide will face undefeated Elk County Catholic, of District 9, at 3:30 p.m.

An area squad has won the Class AAAA championship in each of the last five seasons. The other victors were North Penn (2009, 2013) and West Chester Henderson (2010).

Here is closer look at Friday's matchups.

Class AAAA

Conestoga (20-7) vs. La Salle (20-6)

It is believed to be the first meeting between the perennial powers.

The Pioneers offense has been sparked by designated hitter Steve Born (.520 batting average), shortstop Tom Richter (.449), second baseman Ryne Ogren (.430), and outfielder Austin Shirley (.409).

At the plate for the Explorers, second baseman Brad Schneider (.440), catcher Nick Dermo (.400), and outfielder Jimmy Herron (.388) have been the catalysts.

Conestoga, under 12th-year coach John Vogan, will start junior lefthander Brendon Little. The North Carolina recruit, whose fastball has topped out at 93 m.p.h., is 6-2 with a 3.78 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 491/3 innings.

Joe Parisi, La Salle's 28th-year coach, probably will go back to senior ace righthander Dom Cuoci. The St. Joseph's recruit, who threw 90 pitches in Monday's two-hit shutout of Spring-Ford, is 8-1 with a 1.86 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 632/3 innings.

Also available for La Salle is John Scheffey, a senior lefthander who is 7-2 with a 2.99 ERA and 44 Ks in 712/3 innings.

Pick: We're guessing that Parisi sticks with Cuoci, and the Explorers, shortening their swings, will eventually solve the hard-throwing Little. La Salle, 3-1.

Class AAA

Harriton (17-7) vs. Pope John Paul II (22-6)

Pope John Paul, with Josh Lafferty and Dan Zurowski combining on a two-hitter, eked out a 3-2 win over Harriton in the District 1 final.

Pope John Paul, a fourth-year program, will stay with Lafferty in the state final. The Rams will continue with fellow workhorse and senior righthander Corey Neel. Both will play at Widener.

Lafferty is 10-3 with a 1.54 ERA and 61 Ks in 812/3 innings; Neel is 11-2 with a 1.18 ERA and 63 Ks in 711/3 innings.

It has been a surprising run for both squads. Harriton had not won a state playoff before this season; PJP won four games without then-suspended coach John Duffy, who was reinstated before the state quarterfinals.

Pick: The Lafferty-Zurowski combo again gets it done. Pope John Paul II, 2-0.

Class A

Devon Prep (15-8) vs. Elk County Catholic (26-0)

Tide coach Mark Aquilante says his team has "played mistake-free, super-intense baseball the last five weeks."

The drive for the school's first state title has been headed by catcher Dominic Hardaway, first baseman-pitcher Sean Phelan, and second baseman-designated hitter Tony Gallo.

Junior righthander Pat Rohr, who is 8-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 62 Ks in 56 innings, will get the start against the undefeated Crusaders.

Elk County will go with Brandon Schlimm, its ace, or Ryan Childs. Both are senior righthanders.

Pick: The Tide's strength of schedule pays dividends in a nail-biter. Devon, 5-4.