Elizabeth Forward softball ends West Mifflin's unbeaten run
West Mifflin was 5-0 with wins over perennial powers South Park and Belle Vernon already on its Section 4-AAA resume.
They averaged nearly 13 runs per game and opened up the eyes of many early in the softball season.
But 2012 Class AAA runner-up Elizabeth Forward showed that the upstart Titans still have a ways to go if they want rub shoulders with the top-tier teams.
Elizabeth Forward overcame a pair of West Mifflin rallies to score three unearned runs in the top of the sixth, then handed the game over to Portia McBride, who retired the final eight Titans to come away with an 8-4 road win.
“This was a tough team and we knew it,” Elizabeth Forward coach Harry Rutherford said. “They were off to a fast start and were crushing teams. For us, the motivation was there right off the bat. They beat us three years in a row, and we wanted to show them right off the bat that it wasn't going to happen again.”
McBride overcame a shaky bottom of the first when she gave up four hits to the first six batters before settling down to pick up the win. McBride went the distance, allowing eight hits and four runs while striking out five.
McBride's only blemish after the first was a two-run homer by Marla Small in the fifth to get West Mifflin to within a run at 5-4. But more impressive is that McBride shut down a team that had scored more than 10 runs in four of its first five games.
“We had to do a little yelling at her to get her focused out there,” Rutherford said. “When we put those last three on the board (in the sixth inning) we kind of went after her and told her this was the time to shut them down and don't let them back in the game.”
McBride did that by retiring the Titans in order in the sixth and seventh innings, including striking out the side to end the game.
“That was the innings she needed to step up and show what kind of pitching she can do,” Rutherford said.
Elizabeth Forward's offense helped out plenty as the Warriors banged around West Mifflin starter Paige Flore for 10 hits and eight runs but only five earned.
Jennifer Keefer led the way with three hits, three runs and an RBI, and Katelyn Shinavski added two hits and three RBI, McKenna Kern a RBI double and a Virginia Roche a two-run single.
“We have the confidence to do that this year,” Rutherford said. “We spent a lot of time in the weight room over the winter to strengthen up the hitting because that is where we lacked last year.”
Elizabeth Forward (4-0, 1-0) averaged four runs a game last year. The Warriors have doubled that so far over the first four games.
“We know that we can hit the ball,” West Mifflin coach Casey Phillips said. “If we get down in games, we usually have enough offense to get things done. We didn't do that today. Still, when you score four runs you should win the game. They are very opportunistic and a very veteran team.”
West Mifflin (5-1, 2-1) got two hits from Kaylyn Andress and Syd Zalice while Alyssa Cairns added a RBI double to go along with Small's two-run homer.
“We had chances at the plate and we didn't get it done and you can't do that against a good pitcher,” Phillips said. “Truth be told, we hit her around and hit her better than we probably have in the last two years.”
Elizabeth Forward put together four consecutive hits with two outs in a 2-2 game in the fifth to open up a 5-2 lead. West Mifflin answered with Small's homer in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-4.
EF looked to go quietly in the sixth when Flore got the first two outs, but a lazy fly ball to right by Ashley Baker was dropped to keep the inning alive. Following a walk, back-to-back singles by Keefer and Shinavski pushed EF's lead to 8-4.
“That wind was swirling out there, and our right fielder made a ton of plays out there for us to keep us in the game,” Phillips said. “If we can get out of one of those innings, we have a chance to win the game.”