Elizabeth Forward softball team streaks into semifinals
Elizabeth Forward was teetering on the brink of elimination in the top of the fourth inning in its WPIAL Class AAA softball quarterfinal against Ambridge.
Junior pitcher Portia McBride appeared rattled after allowing a home run to Bridgers catcher Jaymee Humbert that gave top-seeded Ambridge a three-run lead. In the meantime, Ambridge starting pitcher Hannah Smith had gotten into a groove and had retired the last six Warriors hitters she faced.
Elizabeth Forward needed someone to give the team a spark. Instead, the entire Warriors lineup gave Ambridge a tremendous shock that jolted the Bridgers out of the playoffs.
EF sent 10 batters to the plate and scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth to key a 7-4 victory that moved the No. 9 seed into the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals for the first time since 2008.
“To have a young squad mostly consisting of sophomores, this is a big thing for them because they have no clue what this means,” Elizabeth Forward coach Harry Rutherford said. “I'm really proud of such a young team to be able to come back against a great Ambridge team.”
It helped that McBride was able to settle in after the Humbert home run. Immediately after the opposite-field shot she walked Smith on four pitches, which prompted a visit from catcher Virginia Roche.
“I was really upset and everything, but I knew I had to calm down and get focused because the team needed me,” McBride said. “I knew that I had a team to back me up, too.”
Elizabeth Forward (16-6) will play Greensburg Salem (15-2), a 5-2 winner over Mars, on Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
“They have a great pitcher (junior Jayne Oberdorf) that throws a lot of hard stuff, and we'll prepare for her (Tuesday),” Rutherford said. “We've been hitting good pitchers of late, so I don't think that we'll be overpowered by her. We'll prepare for her as best we can and make her do the damage on us. We intend to do some damage on her.”
To get to that point, Rutherford took a huge chance in that fourth inning that paid off. With runners at first and second with two outs and the score tied, 4-4, in the fourth, he pulled No. 2 batter Jen Keefer for pinch hitter Katie Shinavski.
Keefer was 1 for 2 and scored the team's first run in the top of the first, but Shinavski had a tremendous plate appearance. She worked the count full and fouled off three pitches before she lashed a single to right that scored courtesy runner Jessica Guffey with the go-ahead run.
“I have to give a lot of kudos to Katie Shinavski coming off the bench,” Rutherford said. “Here's a junior who was injured earlier in the season and she's been waiting for her chance, and (she) had great at-bats in practice and (I) just thought it was the right time.”
Designated player Caitlyn Arico, who went 2 for 3, started that inning off with a double and later scored, while third baseman McKenna Kern, who also went 2 for 3, capped it off with a two-run single.
Staked to a three-run cushion, McBride was able to work her way through the sixth and seventh to get the Warriors into the semifinals.
“I was just trying to get through it with no errors,” McBride said. “This is amazing.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.