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“Mr. High School Sports” – WPIAL Softball Playoffs Highlights: First Round

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North Allegheny vs. Peters Township, Fairhaven Park

The view from the press box at Fairhaven Park in Kennedy Township as the 2011 WPIAL Softball Playoffs get underway.

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By Matt Popchock

If you’re a frequent listener to “Vinnie & Cook” (weekdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on SportsRadio 93-7 The Fan), you know our own Vinnie Richichi closes every show by saying he’ll return tomorrow “if the Lord’s willing, and the creek don’t rise.”

Unfortunately, for the umpteenth time this spring, the creek has done quite a bit of rising.

Rain interrupted the WPIAL Baseball and Softball Playoffs, pushing both schedules back two days. Fortunately, though, day two of girls’ diamond action finally went off without a hitch Thursday, and the remaining First Round action, except for one game, was completed over the weekend, as district officials did some drastic schedule-juggling, and the rain finally stayed away.

So in case you missed any of it, here’s a look back at what has happened during the first week of playoff softball in western PA:

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For Peters Township to keep its season alive, two things had to change from its last meeting with North Allegheny, and one of the top pitchers in her classification had to remain true to form.

“It was all about errors,” Peters Township junior Tara Konopka said of the May 11 contest, an 11-2 loss. “We were hitting at the time, but just hitting balls right at people. We’ve spent a lot of time working on that and on defense since the last meeting.”

In stark contrast to the regular season finale, Konopka and her fielders were dialed in pretty much from the get-go on this muddy Monday. She tossed seven strikeouts while allowing only three hits and two walks to help the 11th-seeded Indians (9-5) to a 3-1 win over the sixth-seeded Tigers (14-5) in Class AAAA First Round action at Fairhaven Park in Kennedy Township.

Konopka also went 2-for-4 at the plate, scoring what proved to be the game-winning run.

“We haven’t played as many games as them, so the weather being better, and just being able to practice a lot more has made us a lot better,” she said.

Peters broke the ice in the top of the third inning thanks to the prowess of second baseman Katie Makoski, who went 3-for-3 out of the No. 9 spot. She doubled to right with one out, and center fielder Katie O’Laughlin followed with a single. When O’Laughlin broke for second, catcher Toni Miller’s throw bounced off a body and into center field. Makoski hustled and scored on a wild throw to home by Jordan Macey.

“I looked for the ball to go toward right field. When I saw where it went, I just wanted to keep on running,” Makoski said.

Freshman Mary Funderlich, who struck out two, walked one, and allowed seven hits in defeat, settled down, and her team got a break of its own in the bottom of the third. Macey was hit by an 0-2 pitch from Konopka and eventually took second on a fielder’s choice. She tied the game for NA when Megan Lynkskey smashed a ground ball off Makoski and into shallow right field, giving Macey time to score.

But Makoski would redeem herself the very next frame. With runners on first and second and two out, she ripped Funderlich’s 0-2 offering into right field for a two-run single.

“I knew I had to get a hit because it was 1-1, and because I knew we weren’t going to get another chance like that again in this game,” Makoski said.

North Allegheny was poised to counter-punch in the bottom of the fourth, as its first two hitters reached base and advanced on a sacrifice bunt, but Konopka induced a ground out, then a pop-up to catcher Abby Cunningham, and struck out Macey to end the Tigers’ last real threat of the day.

“Me and Abby went over a lot of signals [in the fourth]. She called a great inning and a great game. The pitches were just right,” Konopka said.

She and the rest of the Indians will take on a familiar foe, Section 4 rival and champion Baldwin, the No. 3 seed, in the Class AAAA Quarterfinals later this week, weather permitting. Baldwin split its regular season set with Peters.

The matchup with the Highlanders and Anna Lauterbach, one of the WPIAL’s strikeout leaders, is one that has Konopka excited.

“I think it’s an advantage to us because we know what they’re capable of,” she said. “We know a lot about Anna and her pitches, and we know what we have to do to beat them.”

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It was a slight upset, but it certainly wasn’t the most significant one on the first day of the 2011 postseason. With a 9-8 extra-inning victory, No. 15 seed Fort Cherry shocked Sto-Rox, one of the favorites in Class A (and one of our picks to reach the Class A Final). The Vikings trailed 8-4 entering the seventh when their heavy-hitting offense finally sprung to life and forced the extra frame, but eventually they became just the second No. 2 seed in the past decade to fall in the First Round.

Elsewhere in Class A, No. 13 seed Frazier upended No. 4 seed Leechburg, and Carmichaels, though seeded No. 3, certainly turned some heads by narrowly defeating Vincentian Academy to end the Royals’ three-year reign as WPIAL Class A champions.

South Side Beaver and West Greene were also victorious to round out Monday’s Class A action, while top seed Chartiers-Houston will join them in round two.  West Greene will face Fort Cherry in the Class A Quarterfinals, while South Side Beaver contends with Frazier.

Meanwhile, all was relatively quiet on the Quad-A front. Perennial power Latrobe won comfortably, as did Section 4 runner-up Canon-McMillan, though the Lady Macs will have their work cut out facing top-seeded Shaler in the Class AAAA Quarterfinals.

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After much anticipation–and rainfall–the WPIAL Softball Playoffs resumed Thursday with three contests in three different brackets.

Mount Lebanon was hit hard by graduation entering 2011, but seeding be damned, the No. 13 Blue Devils (8-10) scored a 6-4 upset of fourth-seeded Franklin Regional (11-5) at California University’s Lilly Field to advance to next week’s Class AAAA Quarterfinals.

Was the site of that game, which is also the annual site of the WPIAL Softball Championship games, a glimpse into the future for the defending Quad-A champs? We’ll find out when they face No. 5 seed Latrobe in a few days at a time and place to be determined.

The upsets that took place in this first week of play weren’t just relegated to two classifications. Upset fever spread to West Allegheny’s dugout, as the 11th-seeded Indians (12-5) blanked No. 6 seed Greensburg-Salem 3-0 at Cal U. They had to scratch out those runs against pitcher Jayne Oberdorf, who earlier this month led the Golden Lions (10-5) to an upset over Class AAA contender and section rival Yough.

The Class AA game Thursday, also played at Cal U., saw No. 8 seed Bishop Canevin handle its business with a 9-2 win over No. 9 seed Waynesburg. The Crusaders advance to the Class AA Quarterfinals next week, at a site and time to be determined, against top seed and 2010 runner-up Burrell.

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On Friday No. 10 seed Seneca Valley showed just how tough Sec. 3-AAAA has been this year by pounding No. 7 seed Plum 12-3 under the lights at North Allegheny High School. The Raiders earned the right to face No. 2 seed Hempfield in the WPIAL Class AAAA Quarterfinals early this week.

Elsewhere that night, Class AAA favorite Valley, last year’s Class AA titlist, got off to as good a start as the third-seeded Vikings could ask for. Caitlin Nealer tossed a two-hitter, and her team waxed No. 14 seed Thomas Jefferson 6-0 at Woodland Hills High School. Two of the other top seeds in the Class AAA bracket, Ambridge and Chartiers Valley, also won comfortably on Friday.

The Bridgers and Colts will meet one another in round two, while Valley will take on No. 11 seed West Allegheny in Quarterfinal action this week.

The biggest surprise of the day, and perhaps, the weekend, took place in Class AA First Round action Friday night. No. 15 seed Freeport took down the two-seed, Mount Pleasant, in a thrilling 8-7 triumph at Woodland Hills High School. The Yellowjackets trailed 6-0, but got a 4-for-4 outing at the plate from Taylor Massart, who doubled twice and drove in two runs, to key the comeback and earn a Quarterfinal date with section nemesis Deer Lakes.

In other Friday Class AA action, New Brighton’s Kiersten Manor, the WPIAL regular-season strikeout queen, added ten more to her overall total in a 6-1 win over Avonworth. Seton-LaSalle and Greensburg Central Catholic, both among the top seeds, handled their business as well, and will meet in the Quarterfinals.

On a separate note, No. 8 seed North Catholic defeated No. 9 seed Elderton 6-3 at California University’s Lilly Field in the only Class A contest of the day. The Trojanettes will face Chartiers-Houston in the Quarterfinals Monday.

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Mr. High School Sports has been keeping an eye on Yough pitcher Nicole Sleith, one of the 2010 PIAA strikeout leaders, all season long, and she opened her playoff campaign Saturday by carrying the fourth-seeded Cougars to another victory. Sleith struck out ten in a 3-1 victory over No. 13 seed New Castle at North Allegheny High School.

It wasn’t the only great pitching performance in Class AAA Saturday afternoon either. In another First Round game played at North Allegheny, No. 8 seed Ellwood City had to buckle down and rely on just a fifth inning RBI single by Sammy Santillo to slip past No. 9 seed Hampton 1-0.

Meanwhile, Belle Vernon pounded out a whopping 25 hits in a blowout of Highlands, putting the Leopards into the Quarterfinals against Yough. Top seed Montour will take on Ellwood City to round out the second round of the Class AAA derby.

The only Class AA First Round game Saturday produced yet another upset, as No. 13 seed South Allegheny defeated No. 4 seed Bentworth 6-2 at Baldwin High School. The Gladiators will take on New Brighton in the second round.

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For more WPIAL Softball Playoff updates, be sure to revisit the Mr. High School Sports blog later this week!

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