Hempfield burned by Shaler bunts

| Friday, June 5, 2009

Shaler couldn't get a ball out of the infield against Hempfield pitcher T'nia Falbo for most of the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal.

In the end, there wasn't a need.

Shaler (15-5) used an infield single and three bunt hits in the bottom of the seventh inning to scratch out the only run of the game in a 1-0 victory against Hempfield at North Allegheny High School. Shaler advanced to the state softball semifinals and avenged a loss to Hempfield in the WPIAL championship game. Shaler will play Central Bucks South on Monday at a time and site to be determined.

Hempfield won a regular-season meeting between the schools, 3-1, and also defeated Shaler, 3-2, in the WPIAL title game. After facing Hempfield just six days earlier, the Lady Titans believed they had a pretty good bead on their opponent.

"I just kept thinking that, if we kept it close, anything can happen," Shaler coach Skip Palmer said. "We hit her real well, I thought, at the end of the game the last time. I think she was tiring a little bit this time, but I didn't take any chances. I was putting it on the ground out front (bunting) and let them play around with it."

Shaler catcher Lauren Hackett led off the decisive inning with a shot up the middle that Falbo knocked down. The ball rolled behind the pitcher's circle, and Hackett was safe at first. Then, Shaler began the bunting game.

Left fielder Holly Pefferman laid one down the third-base line, but neither Falbo nor third baseman Jamie Blotzer could come up with the ball and both runners were safe.

Blotzer was in the lineup because starting third baseman Rebecca Kuklar was hospitalized Wednesday night with appendicitis.

"Jamie's been our backup catcher and our backup third baseman, so it wasn't a difficult decision," Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said. "But is it difficult to replace a starter at this point in the year• Certainly it is, but that's the way it goes.

"Injuries are part of the game and I was confident coming in that we'd be able to play with them just the way we were and I thought we did. We just didn't get it done in the bottom of that last inning."

With pinch-runners Candace Tabrosky and Sarah Giebel at first and second, Shaler again bunted. This time, right fielder Britt DeFazio sent a slow roller between third base and the mound that neither Falbo nor Blotzer could reach and the bases were loaded.

Shaler attempted to score the run conventionally when pitcher Abby Nichter stroked a fly ball to center field, but Katy Balko caught the short fly ball and Shaler opted against sending the runner from third. That brought up pinch-hitter Marissa Lisanti, who laid down a perfect bunt between the mound and third that Blotzer had no chance to field. Giebel scored the winning run.

"We work on bunting every day, and they moan and groan about it all the time, but we work on it. And I'm a firm believer in, if I get somebody on, I'm moving them to second and that's exactly what we did here," Palmer said. "They couldn't handle it, so I'm going to move them to third and they didn't handle it again, so I tried it three times in a row and it worked all three times."

Shaler almost scored a run in the second on a miscommunication between Blotzer, Falbo and catcher Angie Comilla. With Hackett at second and two outs, Nichter hit a pop-up halfway between home plate and third base. No one took charge of the play, and the ball dropped for a hit.

While the three players tried to pick up the ball, Hackett rounded third and headed for home. Comilla recovered, picked up the ball and swiped a tag across Hackett's neck to cut down the run and end the inning.

While the defense had its breakdowns, Hempfield (16-5) couldn't find an answer for Nichter, who only surrendered three hits and did not allow a runner beyond second base.

"I think we were more motivated to beat them because we had already lost to them twice, and they were such close games," Nichter said. "We really wanted to do this and the third time's a charm."

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