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Hot start pushes New Castle softball past Kittanning in WPIAL preliminary round

| Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 8:20 p.m.
Slug for lt-KitNCastle1-051612: Alyea Cioffi avoids Kittanning catcher Cassie Merryman's tag at home plate during New Castle's 9-4 win in the preliminary round of the WPIAL Class AAA tournament on Tuesday afternoon at North Hills' McIntyre field.

The New Castle Red Hurricanes arrived, and a series of scattered single showers ensued during Kittanning softball's 9-4 loss in the WPIAL Class AAA preliminary round Tuesday at North Hills' McIntyre Field.

Bloops and gap shots allowed New Castle (7-11) to build an early lead and later pull away against the Wildcats (10-9), whose contact at the plate — while solid — often proved fruitless. The Red Hurricanes, who led 5-1 after the first inning and 9-4 after the third, finished with 13 hits to Kittanning's seven. The postseason victory was the first in New Castle's history, which stretches back to the early 1990s.

“They played a heck of a good defensive game,” Kittanning coach Keith Shaffer said, “and they took advantage of the opportunities they had, especially early on.”

The breaks began to favor New Castle just minutes into the game.

With one out in the top of the first inning, Lauren Pavia struck out but headed toward first base after her coach suspected a possible dropped third strike.

Confused for a moment, neither Kittanning catcher Cassie Merryman nor pitcher Courtney Edwards rushed to get the ball to first. Pavia ultimately beat a casual throw to the bag, and the umpire — over protests from Kittanning's bench — ruled that he had never called Pavia out.

Dana Perrotta followed with an infield single. Aleigha Withrow and Alyea Cioffi drove in one run each, and Shannon Dudich hit a two-run single to left field. Dudich scored one at-bat later on Jenna Frank's single down the left-field line.

Though Withrow, Dudich and Frank singled, each ended up at second base due to aggressive baserunning on the Kittanning outfielders' throws home.

Fearlessness on the basepaths stemmed from New Castle's desire for a playoff breakthrough, coach Leah Ann Williams said. The Red Hurricanes will play No. 2 seed Montour in a first-round contest at 4 p.m. today at Seneca Valley.

“We have nothing to lose,” she said. “We're very young — we have one senior and one junior — so we just want to be very aggressive and see what we can make happen.”

Down, 5-1, after the first inning, Kittanning closed the gap with a three-run bottom of the second. Terra Schall hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly, and Nicole Johnson followed with a two-RBI triple down the right-field line.

New Castle's young lineup tended to crumble in close games during the regular season, Williams said. But the Red Hurricanes responded to the Wildcats' rally with four runs in the top of the third, and they finished without an error.

Kittanning stranded runners on second and third base in the fifth and left Josee Zydonik at third in the sixth.

“It was one of those days where it seems like everything they hit falls in,” Shaffer said, “and everything we hit was right at someone.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1321.

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