Pitching, defense help Hempfield advance to championship game
When the softball season began, Hempfield senior pitcher Karilynn Null was backing up Hope Pehrson.
But an arm injury to Pehrson forced Null to become the everyday starter, and she's not ready to relinquish those duties anytime soon.
Null tossed a six-hit shutout and helped her cause by driving in the first run as second-seeded Hempfield defeated Peters Township, 4-0, in a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal game Wednesday at California (Pa.) University's Lilly Field.
Hempfield, which qualified for the PIAA playoffs, will play the winner of today's semifinal game between Shaler and Canon-McMillan on May 31 at California (Pa.) University. Hempfield defeated Shaler earlier this season but dropped a 1-0 decision to Canon-McMillan.
“I never thought I'd I get this chance,” Null said. “This is so much fun, and I have such a great team behind me.
“We had Hope, and I was backing her up. Now that she is hurt, I'm getting a lot more playing time.”
Hempfield banged out seven hits off Peters Township pitcher Tara Konopka. The Spartans jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Maddie Knizner doubled and scored on a single by Null.
Taylor Spangler, who ran for Null, scored on Callie Madden's grounder.
“The key for us is offense,” Null said. “I was more proud of the way I pitched. We have good hitters and I knew if I couldn't get a hit, someone else would.
“I worked their hitters on the outside. I kept them off-balance and if they hit the ball, my defense made the plays. We spend a lot of time at practice on defense, and we communicate well.”
Hempfield made it 4-0 in the fifth inning when Alaina Montgomery singled to right and moved to third when the right fielder allowed the ball to skip past her to the fence. Montgomery then scored on a wild throw from the outfield.
Justyne Falbo then reached on an error and scored on a single by Knizner.
Tobin and Knizner each had two hits.
“They didn't get good wood on the ball, and she does the job,” Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said about Null. “We also have some kids who can field the ball. The combination of Null and the defense worked pretty well.”
Hempfield got knocked out of the playoffs early last season, and Kalp said that bitter taste in his mouth lingered.
“That was our motivation,” Kalp said. “We had a pretty nice team, and we got bumped in the first round. It's been eating away at us as a team all year. We've done what we needed to do to get to the final game.”
Peters Township got two runners on base in the first inning, but Null struck out Konopka and got Abby Cunningham to ground out.
Hempfield turned two double plays to end threats in the next two innings, and a good relay throw in the seventh inning cut down Kellie Lewis at third base as she tried to stretch a double into a triple.
“Hempfield has a phenomenal hitting team,” Peters Township coach Heidi Karcher said. “They can hit it hard, and they can hit it long. We tried to get them to chase, but they didn't.
“We were trying to pitch around them, but they are just too good. We just didn't bunch clutch hits together. We've been known to come back in games, but as the game wore on, I got concerned.”
Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-836-5095.