By Matt Popchock
The Lancers have been living dangerously, but the bottom line is, they’re living.
Deer Lakes (20-1), sparked by a crucial error and timely hitting, continued its historic run with a 5-4 win over District 9 runner-up Wilmington in the First Round of the PIAA Softball Playoffs at North Allegheny High School Monday afternoon.
Courtney Lubic finished 3-for-3 with three RBI, while Hailey Moretti allowed just two earned runs on eight hits, striking out four without a walk.
Wilmington scored the game’s first run in the top of the second on a bunt single by Allison Drake before Lubic tied the game in the bottom half of that inning on a two-out single.
The Greyhounds took a 2-1 lead on a dropped fly ball by second baseman Katie Gozzard, but Gozzard redeemed herself by drawing a full-count walk in the bottom of the third, and eventually coming around to score on a two-out double by Hannah Blinn that put DL ahead 3-2.
Lubic doubled in Moretti’s courtesy runner, Haley Ketchell, to give Deer Lakes a two-run lead, which evaporated when a two-run single by Alexis Donati with two outs in the fifth forged a 4-4 tie.
Moretti would reach again, however, in the bottom of the sixth with one out, when second baseman Mackenzie Parrish dropped an easy fly ball. Lubic’s subsequent line-drive double down the right field line knocked in the decisive run, and left fielder Leanne Crawford later made a nice running catch of a deep fly ball with the tying run on first to preserve the victory.
WPIAL Class AAA champion Montour (18-5) also advanced to the second round by picking up a 4-1 win over District 9 champion Punxsutawney in Monday’s finale at N.A. The Chucks had pitched their way into the state tournament, but on this day they were no match for highly-touted Kaitlyn Kutchmann, who struck out nine and scattered three hits in victory.
Kutchmann might have made it an even ten if not for what was deemed an illegal pitch in the top of the second inning. In fact, that pitch allowed Johnna Depp to advance from second to third and register Punxy’s only run on a sacrifice fly by Sydney Phillips.
The Spartans tied it in the fourth after Kutchmann battled her way to a full-count walk and third baseman Allison Hraydil singled. Montour tried a double steal, and although Hraydil appeared to be an obvious out, a distracted Stacey Capp never applied the tag, and Kutchmann’s courtesy runner, Bri Peckich, scored on the play.
Hraydil finished 3-for-3 with a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth. Her blast to the right-center field wall put the game out of reach after catcher Malory Gerst’s courtesy runner, Emily Diecks, scored the winning run thanks to an errant throw to third by pitcher Randa Depp.
Deer Lakes will see if it has any magic left when the Lancers meet District 6 runner-up Central in the PIAA Quarterfinals at St. Francis University Thursday, whereas Montour’s prize is a date with its District 7 siblings, Greensburg-Salem, which got here by winning the WPIAL consolation game and then shutting out Carrick. Once again, the Spartans will host that game, which also takes place Thursday, at North Allegheny.
The other two WPIAL champions also fared well. Chartiers-Houston blanked Brockway, 4-0, at Fairhaven Park in Kennedy Township, and first-time titlist Canon-McMillan advanced by beating perennial District 10 power Erie McDowell at the same facility by the same score.
Meanwhile, it was a tougher day for WPIAL baseball champions. Once again, we saw what a difference pitcher and Georgetown recruit Matt Smith makes, as he was not on the hill for Seneca Valley’s 9-4 loss to District 6 champion Altoona at Pullman Park in Butler Monday. But perhaps the biggest surprise was District 5 champion North Star shutting down scoring machine Ellwood City by a 2-0 margin in the first game of the afternoon up there.
From a local perspective, the news wasn’t all bad, however. While district batting champion John Sansone was waiting to see if any MLB teams would call his name, his Neshannock Lancers edged District 6 runner-up Bishop Guilfoyle 2-0 in the second game of that Pullman Park tripleheader. Neshannock will meet District 9 runner-up Elk County Catholic in the PIAA Class A Quarterfinals Thursday at a site and time to be announced.
In addition, Point Park’s baseball program, fresh off a playoff run that captivated this city, possibly brightened its future by recruiting one of the most talked-about pitchers in the area. Plum senior Anthony Garofalo (6’3″, 170 lbs.), the WPIAL Class AAAA Pitcher of the Year, as voted on by the WBCA (WPIAL Baseball Coaches’ Association), committed to the Pioneers yesterday.
The lefty tossed 41 1/3 innings this year, posting an ERA of 1.86 to go with a 6-0 record. He struck out 61 hitters as the Mustangs (10-2, 14-6) shared the AAAA-Sec. 4 title with Pittsburgh Central Catholic before falling to Mount Lebanon in their WPIAL playoff opener.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)