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High School

“Mr. High School Sports” – WPIAL Softball Championships Highlights

Lilly Field

California University of Pennsylvania’s Lilly Field, in addition to hosting the 2012 NCAA Softball Championships, once again served as host of the WPIAL Softball Championships. (Photo credit: Student Association Inc./California University of Pennsylvania)

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By Matt Popchock

If you know anything about Chartiers-Houston senior pitcher Kiersten Conwell, you know that hitting her stuff can be like trying to hit an airborne Tylenol. On Thursday afternoon in the WPIAL Class A Softball Final at California University of Pennsylvania’s Lilly Field, Fort Cherry probably could’ve used that Tylenol.

One of the most dominant players on one of the most dominant teams in Pennsylvania, Conwell pitched the Buccaneers (20-0) to an easy 9-3 win over the 15th-seeded Rangers (9-8) to give the longtime softball powerhouse its eighth WPIAL title all-time and first since 2007. Conwell allowed just two earned runs on two walks and five hits while striking out 13.

Chartiers-Houston’s softball team is now riding a 23-game winning streak into the PIAA tournament, a run that encompasses its march to the 2010 state championship.

Although the glass slipper ultimately did not fit this particular Cinderella, those who believe in moral victories will agree Fort Cherry earned one simply by scoring on the state champs. When losing pitcher Nicolette McHugh singled in sister Brandi McHugh–who had broken up Conwell’s no-hit bid–in the top of the sixth, it ended a string of nine consecutive shutouts by the Bucs. They hadn’t been scored upon since a 5-1 win over Serra Catholic Apr. 25.

The Chartiers-Houston offense, as potent as it had been all year, left little doubt from the get-go, as Colby Miller drove a ball just ofter the left-center field fence in the bottom of the first to give her team the game’s first run after Fort Cherry had been retired in order to begin it.

Kayla Briggs, who is perhaps the Bucs’ best power hitter, made it 5-0 Chartiers-Houston after just two innings when she crushed a grand slam to roughly the same spot that appeared to be gone the instant it left her bat.

The Buccaneers built a 9-0 lead over their Section 1 rivals in the bottom of the fifth inning, but McHugh wiggled her way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam to avoid a mercy-rule ending.

Chartiers-Houston will begin its PIAA title defense against District 9 runner-up Smethport on Monday, while Fort Cherry will face Cochranton, the District 10 champion, that day in its state playoff opener.

Burrell senior pitcher Casey Moses has lived a little more dangerously in these playoffs, and she did again on Thursday. But as was the case in the WPIAL Semifinals, her teammates provided just enough offense, and Moses got key outs when she had to in a 3-1 nail-biter over Greensburg Central Catholic (14-5) in the WPIAL Class AA Final.

The Buccaneers (17-1) finished their unfinished business after bowing to arch-nemesis Valley at Lilly Field a year ago, claiming their second district crown in softball and first since 2000.

Moses scattered eight hits while striking out four and allowing just one walk. The most telling stat of her pitching line, however, was the nine runners she stranded, especially the last two. With nobody out in the bottom of the seventh and the potential tying run at first, she induced back-to-back infield pop-ups and struck out Alie Perz swinging to seal the victory.

Perz had plated the Centurions’ only run with a single in the bottom of the first that drove in Emily Adisey. However, this would be another two-run triumph for Burrell, and Moses kept the “Groundhog Day” theme going by providing the game-winning hit, just as she had in the semis. After Courtney Reed smacked an RBI double to tie the game, Moses singled down the right field line to give the Bucs a 2-1 lead in the fourth.

Burrell, which has outscored three postseason opponents 10-1 and won 13 in a row overall, will face District 9 champion Moniteau in the state playoffs Monday. Greensburg Central Catholic will also begin its state playoff journey that day against District 10 champion Fairview.

Yough pitcher Nicole Sleith, last year’s PIAA strikeout leader, also had to practice the fine art of damage control in the Class AAA Final Thursday afternoon. However, much of the damage done in that contest was beyond her control.

Nevertheless, in a game that saw both teams combine for ten errors, including four by her teammates, the senior star muddled her way through to a 4-2 victory for the Cougars (18-1) over Ambridge (16-3), giving Yough its first-ever WPIAL softball crown.

Sleith, as usual, pitched like she owned the circle, yielding just one earned run on one walk and four hits.  She fanned 15 Bridgers while throwing 70 percent of her pitches for strikes, and she wasn’t done there. She went 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI as Yough, trailing 1-0 through four, scored three times in the top of the fifth to take the lead for good.

Her counterpart, Kayla Haslett, also threw roughly 70 percent of her pitches for strikes, and put up a good fight in defeat. Haslett struck out seven, walked one, and also allowed just one earned run.

The Cougars, winners of ten straight, will face City League champion Carrick in the opening round of the state playoffs Monday. Ambridge, which has now lost back-to-back district title games after bowing to Montour in 2010, opens the PIAA tournament that day against District 10 champion Fort LeBoeuf.

Thursday evening’s WPIAL Class AAAA Final looked like it might be an equally ugly game when Latrobe senior pitcher Alexa Larkin issued back-to-back walks, put both in scoring position with a wild pitch, and balked one in to give Seneca Valley a fortuitous 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. But Larkin and the Wildcats (15-4) then turned a Picasso into a Mona Lisa, as the Larkin we’ve come to know emerged and pitched six innings of no-hit softball en route to a 5-3 victory over the Raiders (13-6).

This is the second district softball title for Latrobe, a team that has excelled in the sport for years but has only managed one other WPIAL title, in 2007, another win over Seneca Valley by a similar score of 5-1.

To earn her gold medal Larkin settled down and quieted one of the most prolific offenses in Quad-A, allowing just three free passes, all in the first, and Seneca’s only two hits in the bottom of the seventh. She struck out 15, including the Raiders’ final two hitters, after allowing a single to Emily Watson and a homer by Lauren Davies that provided the final margin.

Latrobe turned the game on a dime after falling behind, as freshman designated player Ashley Perillo continued her surprising playoff heroics. The ‘Cats quickly put two on base to set the stage for Perillo, whose three-run home run, her second dinger of the postseason, gave Latrobe a 3-1 advantage in the top of the second. Carmelina Moffa, who got that rally started with a single, supplied what proved to be the game-winning RBI in the fifth.

After accepting their silver medals, Seneca Valley prepares for its state playoff opener against District 10 champion Erie McDowell. Latrobe will face State College from District 9; both games are on Monday.

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)

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