By Matt Popchock
Sid Bream just watched his son Austin earn a second consecutive gold medal hitting cleanup for Seneca Valley. He may be a Pittsburgher in good faith, but his surname will forever be associated by many with what has become known down south as “The Slide.”
If all of Pittsburgh remembers “The Slide,” maybe one day all of Houston will remember “The Triple.”
Don’t get us wrong, no one will ever confuse Piper McLaughlin with an equally resilient Francisco Cabrera. But there’s a reason the Braves and the Bucs (no, the other Bucs) have been so good for so long.
McLaughlin became the latest addition to the illustrious history of the Chartiers-Houston program with her walk-off two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth Thursday afternoon, giving the Bucs a 3-2 win over Carmichaels in the WPIAL Class A Softball Final at California University of Pennsylvania.
With two outs in the inning, the Mighty Mikes were poised to celebrate their first championship since back-to-back district crowns 1997-98. Instead, a potential game-winning RBI double belted by Lindsey Osborne in the top of the seventh was negated by McLaughlin’s knock, and Chartiers-Houston collected its ninth WPIAL title all-time.
The Bucs have won two in a row and six since the district expanded softball to three classifications in 1999.
Kayla Briggs kept it scoreless through six; however, Cam Grimes not only matched her, but helped her own cause by breaking a scoreless tie with a sac fly that drove in Anna Cree in the top of the seventh. In a harbinger of things to come, pinch-hitter Sam Elliott singled in pinch-runner Casey Craig to force extras.
Extra innings were also required in the game that concluded a couple hours later, a Cinderella story that followed the Class A screenplay. Fresh off a huge upset of undefeated Neshannock, Deer Lakes plated a pair of late runs, including one in the bottom of the eighth, to capture its first-ever softball crown with a 3-2 stunner over Greensburg Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class AA Final.
The Centurions took a quick and well-protected 2-0 lead, but Hailey Moretti matched the mastery of Syracuse recruit Anna Marie Gatti by retiring 20 hitters in order at one point. Finally, with the bases loaded and the Lancers down to their last out in regulation, Courtney Lubick rewarded her pitcher with a game-tying single.
That set the stage for Sierra Sarver, who later blasted one toward dead center that dropped in and scored Rebecca Babincak for DL’s historic walk-off victory.
In contrast, those who witnessed the second half of the festivites at Cal U. were able to breathe a little easier at the end of the day. Montour made amends for falling just short of the title game a year ago by handling Elizabeth Forward in 7-0 fashion in the WPIAL Class AAA Final.
The Spartans pounded out 16 hits, and Kaitlyn Kutchmann made big pitches when it mattered in picking up her 17th win of the season.
Although the road to the WPIAL Class AAAA title often goes through Section 1, flag-bearer Hempfield was on the short end of an unprecedented district final victory by Canon-McMillan. Olivia Lorusso hit a three-run bomb over the fence midway through to key a decisive 4-1 win by the Big Macs.
So will Chartiers-Houston and Deer Lakes be able to live off Thursday’s heroics in the PIAA playoffs? Can first-time WPIAL finalist Canon-Mac do the same?
The Buccaneers meet District 9 runner-up Brockway at Fairhaven Park in Kennedy Township Monday at 2:00. The 2010 state champs certainly have the experience factor on their side, not to mention the intimidation factor. Briggs, one of the PIAA’s premier pitchers, has worked with her teammates to allow just 25 runs all year and shut out 16 opponents.
Deer Lakes will enter uncharted territory against District 10 runner-up Wilmington at North Allegheny High School at the same time on Monday. The Greyhounds ran into a buzz saw in the regional playoffs, as district champ Fairview has now won 43 of its last 44 games. It’ll be interesting to see if Wilmington’s otherwise very impressive offense can bounce back from an uninspiring game against the effective pitching of Moretti, who has become one of the feel-good stories of the postseason.
Kutchmann may need to tighten things up when Montour takes on District 9 champion Punxsutawney at N.A. at 4:00 Monday. We know the Spartans can pound the horsehide enough to get her through, but the Chucks have gotten clutch pitching of their own lately, posting zeroes in 12 of their last 14 innings after muddling their way through a tough, competitive regular-season slate.
Still, upstart Canon-McMillan, which draws District 10 winner Erie McDowell at Fairhaven Park at 4:00 Monday, might have the toughest matchup of the four. The Trojans have now collected four straight District 10 gold medals and six in the last eight years; plus, they have a young lady who, like McLaughlin and Sarver, is no stranger to late-game drama. Shortstop Ashley Samluk has really picked up her bat as of late, and she went 3-for-4, including a walk-off two-run double, in a mercy-rule victory for the D-10 championship.
The Big Macs have posted eight shutouts in 2012, while allowing just seven total runs in six games since the end of April.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)