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Walk-off single leads Elizabeth Forward to championship game

| Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 7:26 p.m.
Greensburg Salem's Kellie Hutchinson scores her team's only run in front of Elizabeth Forward's Virginia Roche during a WPIAL playoff game with at California University's Lilley Field on May 23, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Forward players rush teammate Jessica Guffey (top) after she scored the winning run in a 2-1 WPIAL playoff defeat of Greensburg Salem at California University's Lilley Field on May 23, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Forward's Portia McBride delivers a pitch during a WPIAL playoff game with Greensburg Salem at California University's Lilley Field on May 23, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Forward's Virginia Roche dives for and catches a foul ball during a WPIAL playoff game with Greensburg Salem at California University's Lilley Field on May 23, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

Elizabeth Forward is making such a habit out of late-inning come-from-behind playoff victories that it's beginning to seem commonplace.

Then again, there was nothing ordinary about what the Warriors did to Greensburg Salem on Wednesday in the WPIAL Class AAA softball semifinals. Not by a long shot.

Junior catcher Virginia Roche broke up a no-hit bid by Greensburg Salem starter Jayne Oberdorf when she slapped a bases-loaded single to center field with one out in the bottom of the seventh to score two runs and give ninth-seeded Elizabeth Forward a 2-1 walk-off victory over the No. 4 Golden Lions at California (Pa.) University's Lilley Field.

“I was just watching the ball, hoping to get that meatball down the middle and drive it somewhere,” Roche said. “Then it happened.”

It was the second consecutive game in which the Warriors came from behind late to win. Elizabeth Forward trailed top-seeded Ambridge by three before using a six-run fifth inning for a 7-4 win Monday in the quarterfinals.

Elizabeth Forward (17-6) will return to Lilley Field to play Montour in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game May 31 at a time to be determined and has also earned a spot in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs.

“We've been coming back all year long and having some great games,” Elizabeth Forward coach Harry Rutherford said. “We've been stroking the ball well ... and for her to hold us down all the way to the last batter in the seventh inning, you can't say enough about that pitcher.”

Roche's walk-off single ruined what had been a masterpiece for Oberdorf. The junior right-hander was staked to a 1-0 lead on an unearned run against Warriors starter Portia McBride in the second inning and had only allowed one baserunner through the first six.

“That girl is a gamer and, in the semifinals in Triple-A, I would never say anything against that kid, even if she walked 20,” Greensburg Salem coach Jody Morgan said. “We played a great game for six innings, but the intangibles, you can't control, and that's how I'm looking at it. There were just some things we couldn't control, and I'll leave it at that.”

Oberdorf's only mistake up to that point was a four-pitch, third-inning walk to second baseman Jen Welsh. She had also struck out 11 and only allowed one ball to leave the infield — a first inning pop-out to center field ­— before struggling in the seventh.

“We went into that inning and I told them they've been swinging at bad pitches and nobody is allowed to swing the bat until they get one strike on them,” Rutherford said. “We needed baserunners and we needed to shake her up, so I had everybody taking until I told them they could swing.”

That quick philosophical change obviously rattled Oberdorf, who walked pinch hitter Katie Shinavski to start the inning and, after Jen Keefer re-entered the game as a pinch runner, Kelsey Havel bunted the runner to second to put the tying run in scoring position. Oberdorf then hit McKenna Kern on an 0-2 pitch and, after she was replaced by pinch runner Jessica Guffey, Caitlyn Arico took a four-pitch walk to load the bases.

Then up came Roche, who worked the count to 2-2 and fouled off a couple pitches to the first-base side before lining a single over second base and into center field. Alyssa Mellinger got to the ball quickly for Greensburg Salem, but both Keefer and Guffey scored to give the Warriors the win.

Greensburg Salem still has an opportunity to extend its season; it will play Belle Vernon on Tuesday at Lilley Field in the third-place consolation game for a berth in the state tournament.

“They'll be ready, because they want to go to states so bad,” Morgan said. “This was a big step for us this year going to the semifinals, but the kids just wanted this game to go to states.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.

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