By Matt Popchock

Latrobe doesn’t need a lot of hits to beat you.  They just need opportunities.

On Thursday afternoon the Wildcats (1-0, 2-0) got both, pounding out 11 hits and plating six unearned runs in an abbreviated 12-2 rout of Connellsville (0-1, 1-1) in their Class AAAA Section 1 opener at Latrobe Rotary Community Park.  Latrobe cemented the victory with its final defensive out of the fifth inning, per the PIAA 10-run mercy rule.

For the hosts it was a nice early statement to make against another team perceived to be a challenger in Sec. 1-AAAA.

“They beat us twice at home the past two years, and we really took that personally,” said junior second baseman Carmelina Moffa.  “We just wanted to come out for a win and play our best after all that time being stuck in the gym because of the rain.  It was a great game for us, and the home-field advantage was really nice.”

Moffa finished 2-for-3 with two runs, a double, and an RBI, not to mention a pivotal catch in the top of the third inning.  With two away, the game tied 2-2, and the Falcons threatening, she dove to her right to snag a line drive by Madisyn Keller, leaving the bases loaded.

“You’ve just got to be prepared for plays like that,” Moffa said.  “It’s about practicing…and most of it’s mental.  You have to see the ball.”

“I keep telling our girls, with the three extra feet (a WPIAL rule change that has made the distance between the circle and home plate the same as in the NCAA), we have to focus on defense,” Kovalcin added.  “We made some nice plays when we really needed them.”

Moffa’s contributions did not go unmatched.  Marissa Larkin went 2-for-2, drove in three, and scored twice.  Rachel Conrad walked, singled, doubled, and also scored two runs.  Right fielder Kaity Finley’s two-run single with two out in the bottom of the fourth put the mercy rule into effect.

Eight of Latrobe’s nine batters broke into the hit column, and all nine reached base at least once.  Seven were credited with an RBI.

“Connellsville has a good team, but we just played well today,” manager Bob Kovalcin said. “Everything came together.  We hit the ball well, played good defense, and our pitching was good.  They hit the ball well, so I got a little worried early on, but Rebecca settled down.”

Senior pitcher Rebecca Taylor did indeed fare better after that shaky third frame, limiting Connellsville to two hits and stranding four runners over the final two innings.  She struck out five Falcons on the day and walked just two to earn win number two of 2011.

Taylor helped her own cause with a sacrifice fly RBI in the second and a run-scoring single that was part of the Wildcats’ six-run outburst in the bottom of the fourth, which put the game in their hands beyond reasonable doubt.

“Once she got her pitches up high, they were starting to hit them,” Kovalcin said.  “But she got into a groove, and pitched well…really well.”

Kovalcin’s team began the game the same it ended the game: by simply taking what Connellsville gave it.  In the bottom of the first Alexa Larkin reached on a fly ball that caromed off the glove of center fielder Ally Panzella, the first of three errors by the Falcons Thursday.  Larkin reached third on Conrad’s one-out double, then scored on an errant pickoff throw by catcher Tommi Nickelson.

In the third inning, Latrobe began taking advantage of control problems by the Connellsville battery of Nickelson and pitcher Meghan Uher.  After back-to-back singles by Alexa Larkin and Conrad, both advanced on a wild pitch, and both would eventually score.  Kelsey Zappetti reached on a single and advanced to third on two passed balls by Nickelson.  Zappetti would come around on the first of Marissa Larkin’s RBI singles, making it 5-2 Wildcats.

Conrad scored in the fourth after drawing a full-count walk, which came after Alexa Larkin led off by reaching on an error once again.  Alexa Larkin would score in that inning as well.  Runs by Marissa Larkin and Emily Yokopenic provided the final margin after both moved into scoring position on a pair of wild pitches.

Uher managed just two strikeouts and walked three in suffering her first loss of the season.

She and the rest of the Falcons will try to get back on track next Tuesday when they host Penn-Trafford in further Section 1 action.  Latrobe is slated to host Peters Township in a non-section game Saturday afternoon.

For continuing coverage of WPIAL softball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2011 regular season!

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