Deer Lakes’ Justin Brannagan named 2022 Valley News Dispatch Baseball Player of the Year

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Saturday, June 25, 2022 | 11:28 pm


Justin Brannagan had a propensity this year for coming up big in clutch playoff scenarios.

In February, Deer Lakes trailed Blackhawk by one point in the final seconds of a WPIAL Class 4A first-round basketball game at Deer Lakes High School.

Brannagan found himself in possession of the ball, and he launched a 3-point shot that found nothing but net. Just like that, the Lancers were on to the next round.

Fast forward to May 17, and Brannagan was on the mound for a WPIAL Class 3A baseball first-round contest against McGuffey.

He was clutch again, showing his skills as one of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s top pitchers. He went the distance, surrendering just two hits while walking none and striking out 11. He also collected the hit that drove in the winning run in a 1-0 Lancers victory.

“That was probably the best I felt for a while,” Brannagan said. “My pitches were really working for me. When I got to the fifth inning, I felt I could finish it, but you never know. It was just a great win for us, we wanted to score more runs, but we did what we needed to do to advance. It was a great feeling.”

Brannagan finished the season with a team-best four victories. He recorded an AK Valley-best 1.29 ERA: nine earned runs in 49 innings with 53 strikeouts and 18 walks.

He batted .300 with 14 RBIs and a team-best 18 runs scored. Nine of his 21 total hits went for extra bases with seven doubles and two triples.

For his efforts on the mound and at the plate, Brannagan has been selected the Valley News Dispatch Baseball Player of the Year. Apollo-Ridge junior Brandon Butler and Highlands senior Tanner Nulph were among those also considered.

“Justin was a guy who did everything we’ve needed from him for four years,” Deer Lakes coach Josh Tysk said.

“He started every game for three seasons since his freshman year. He quickly showed what kind of hitter and pitcher he could be. He’s just had a knack for the game and a knack for the ball. I think he has done the things which will set him up to be successful at the next level.”

Brannagan is busy this summer as a member of the Butler Blue Sox in the Tri-State Summer Collegiate League. With four or five games a week, he plans to play more than 30 times before the season concludes in mid-July.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s definitely an adjustment from high school. The pitching is much better. It was an adjustment at first, but since then, it’s been such a great experience.”

Brannagan is also looking forward to making his mark on the collegiate diamond at Division III Westminster.

“I wish the (2023) season could be right now,” Brannagan said. “Once I get there, I want to show them what I can do. Westminster went to the PAC championship this year, so I am really looking forward to going up there and, hopefully, helping them continue the success.”

First team all-stars

Ben Aftanas

Valley, Sr., P/IF

The veteran Vikings standout also earned VND first-team honors as a junior. Aftanas fronted the Valley offense with a .406 average (26 for 64). The 26 hits was a team high. He knocked in seven runs and scored a team-best 14. His eight doubles also led the team. Aftanas also logged a team-high 34 2/3 innings and finished with a 3.23 ERA. His efforts also landed him on the Section 3-3A first team.

Brandon Butler

Apollo-Ridge, Jr., P/OF

Butler recorded a breakout season for the Vikings, who finished 7-3 in Section 3-2A, tied for second with Shady Side Academy, and 9-8 overall. He batted .711 with 32 RBIs, 23 runs scored, five triples and three home runs. He collected a combined 13 RBIs in a doubleheader sweep of Sto-Rox early in the section schedule. Butler recorded at least one hit in 16 of his team’s 17 games this season. He also went 4-1 on the mound with 29 strikeouts in 25 innings.

Matt Curfman

Leechburg, Jr., INF/OF/P

The versatile Blue Devil led the team in batting at .442 with a team-best 23 hits to go along with 10 runs batted in and 17 runs scored. Curfman collected multiple hits in a game six times. He went 3 for 3 with two runs scored in a WPIAL Class A first round loss to Greensburg Central Catholic. He also went 2-1 in seven pitching appearances.

Justin Giarrusso

Plum, Sr., P/IF

One of the area’s top pitchers, Giarrusso finished 3-2 over nine appearances and 43 2/3 innings. He gave up just four earned runs for an 0.65 ERA. Giarrusso surrendered 28 hits and walked 19 while striking out 49. The second-team Section 2-5A all-star gave up one earned run, three hits and two walks while striking out 11 over five ins in a 4-2 WPIAL Class 5A first -round playoff loss to No. 6 Shaler.

John Hughes

Springdale, So., C/P/OF

The Dynamos made a modest improvement in wins, going from one last year to five this year. Within the framework of the team’s overall efforts, Hughes made his abilities known at the plate in the form of a team-leading .535 batting average (23 of 43) with 13 runs batted in and a team-high 19 runs scored. He records eight multi-hit games, and of his 23 hits, 10 were for extra bases (nine doubles, one triple).

Silvio Ionadi

Plum, Sr., INF

The Mustangs veteran makes a move up to the first team after earning VND second-team selection in 2021. During play against a competitive schedule in and out of Section 2-5A, Ionadi batted a team-best .384 (23 of 60) with 11 runs batted in and a team-best 17 runs scored. Of his 23 hits, 12 went for extra bases — eight doubles, two triples and two home runs. Ionadi was selected to the Section 2 first team.

Jimmy Kunst

Highlands, Jr., SS/P

The multi-sport standout first earned first-team all-star honors during the Golden Rams boys basketball season. He moved from the hardwood to the diamond and again was one of his team’s top performers. Kunst, a VND second-team baseball pick last year, batted .411 with a team-best 30 hits in 73 at-bats. He doubled four times, knocked in 13 runs and scored 14 more. On the mound, Kunst went 3-1 with a 2.71 earned-run average in 31 innings over 13 appearances. He struck out 53 and walked 14.

Tanner Nulph

Highlands, Sr., P/INF

The Golden Rams pitching staff was one of the strongest in the area in 2022, and Nulph, a Seton Hill commit, was right at the top of the list in helping his team go 13-7 overall and finish 6-4 in Section 1- 4A. Also a VND first-team selection last season, Nulph was 4-2 on the mound with a 2.28 ERA through a team-best 43 innings of work. He recorded a team-best 71 strikeouts. At the plate, he batted .361 with 18 RBIs and eight doubles.

Bradey Schrock

Apollo-Ridge, Sr., OF

The veteran presence in the lineup was a big part of the Vikings’ run to the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs. Schrock batted .477 (21 of 44), knocked in 24 runs and scored 11 more for an Apollo-Ridge offense which batted .380 on the season. Of his 21 hits, seven went for extra bases: five doubles and two home runs. The three-sport standout collected six multi-hit games and drove in three or more runs in a game five times.

Brady Stone

Burrell, Fr., INF

If Stone had any freshman jitters during the 2022 season, he didn’t show it as he made his mark in his varsity debut. The shortstop was a difference maker at the top of the Bucs order as he hit .438 (21 of 48) and owned a .500 (27 of 54) on-base percentage. Stone was a terror on the base paths with 15 stolen bases. He also scored 12 runs for a Burrell team which faced a challenging slate of games in and out of Section 1-4A play.

Second team all-stars

Thomas Burke III, Leechburg, Sr., OF/P

Tyler Danko, Valley, So., P/OF/1B

Danny Geis, Deer Lakes, Sr., INF/OF

Enzo Leo, Riverview, Jr., P/1B/OF

John Lisotto, Deer Lakes, Sr., 1B

Owen McDermott, Leechburg, Jr. SS/P

Karter Schrock, Apollo-Ridge, So., OF/P

Jett Slepak, Highlands, Sr., 3B/P

Jacob Smith, Kiski Area, So., P/OF/3B

Colin Solinski, Plum, Sr., P/DH/1B

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter ,

Tags: Apollo RidgeBurrell, Deer Lakes, Highlands, Kiski Area, Leechburg, Plum, Riverview, Springdale, Valley

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