“Mr. High School Sports” – Softball Game of the Week
By Matt Popchock
The Yough Cougars won again Thursday afternoon…and they didn’t even score any runs.
That’s because they got all the offense they needed over two weeks ago.
The “home team” survived a somewhat tenuous last inning for a 3-2 win over Greensburg-Salem (8-1, 8-3) in game two of their Class AAA Section 4 doubleheader at Greensburg-Salem High School.
It was the resumption of a rain-delayed contest at Cougar Mountain Apr. 19 that was suspended with Yough (6-1, 9-1) ahead 3-0 with two out in the top of the third. Starting pitcher Nicole Sleith had opened the game with a single, Alaynna Beers did the same with two out, Sam Shoaf kept the inning alive by reaching on a fumbled third strike, and catcher Ashlyn Hoak cleared the bases with a double.
On Thursday the Cougars only pounded out two more hits, but Sleith kept on cruising despite having her streak of eight consecutive strikeouts interrupted by the rain. She retired the first 13 Golden Lions she faced and ultimately faced just two above the minimum number of batters.
One of those batters, Samantha Sistek, led off the top of the seventh with a bloop single into shallow left field. With two out, catcher Taylor Mehan made things interesting when she took a 1-1 offering and fired a towering, well-placed shot down the left field line that barely got out for a two-run homer. But Hoak threw out Hannah Cawoski on a bunt attempt to preserve Sleith’s win, her ninth of the season.
“Some of my pitches weren’t working, but other than that, I was fine,” Sleith said. “It’s nice to get a win, but I think we have a lot of things to work on. Overall, though, I think we played well today.”
The senior, who leads Class AAA in strikeouts and recently became just the second WPIAL pitcher this year to reach the century mark, racked up 13 K’s without walking anybody and surrendered just three hits in yet another masterful performance, but she certainly seemed a little irked about giving up that long ball.
It was a bittersweet day for Sleith and the Cougars, as they saw their eight-game winning streak and string of seven shutouts come to an end with a 1-0 upset loss to Greensburg-Salem in the first game of the twin bill.
It came to an end rather abruptly too. After two outs in the bottom of the first, sophomore mound opponent Jayne Oberdorf doubled to center field, and Mehan, who had two of Salem’s four hits, drove her in with a single to deep center, taking second on an error when the ball was mishandled.
Sleith struck out Cawoski to end the inning, but that was all Oberdorf needed to deny Yough an opportunity to gain ground in the Section 4 race. The converted shortstop struck out 10 Cougars without walking any and scattered five hits for her eighth win of the year.
“Nicole and I are actually good friends; we’ve both had the same pitching coach. It was a good battle today,” Oberdorf said of ending her counterpart’s streak of shutouts. “You just have to approach every game [with the mindset] that nothing’s different. We knew it was going to be a tight game, so we just battled.”
“We need to cut down on the strikeouts,” Sleith said. “We need to put the ball in play, and get back to playing [better] small ball.”
Greensburg-Salem, which has clinched a playoff berth, continues to sit atop the section, but has just one section game remaining, next Wednesday’s date with Derry at Grandview Field. Playoff-bound Yough has a little more control over its own destiny, with one section contest against Laurel Highlands (home) and two against Uniontown still to be made up.
That is, of course, if Mother Nature finally relents for a few days. But neither Sleith nor Oberdorf seemed to mind tossing back-to-back games, and the way things have gone in western Pennsylvania this spring, it would probably surprise neither team it it happened again.
“After the first game, you’re pretty much loose. I honestly feel like I could throw a softball all day. You’ve just got to stretch and stay active,” Oberdorf said.
“I’ve pitched [doubleheaders] like this before in travel ball–a lot, actually–just never in high school,” Sleith added. “I felt all right today.”
If their pitching clinic, which saw 44 strikeouts and just one walk over the course of the doubleheader, is any guide, the two teams could be looking at a shared crown.
For continuing coverage of WPIAL softball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports next week!