EF softball team qualifies for playoffs

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

Elizabeth Forward softball coach Harry Rutherford had a secret he was trying to keep from his team.

It wasn't anything earth-shattering. He just didn't want his players to realize ahead of time that, with a win Tuesday at Yough, the Warriors would lock up a spot in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.

“We didn't want the kids to know, and we didn't really tell them,” Rutherford said. “I don't know whether they figured it out or not.”

He didn't waste any time telling them, though, after senior Portia McBride tossed a six-hitter and struck out nine to help Elizabeth Forward (11-2, 7-2) defeat Yough (7-6, 5-5), 5-1, to earn a WPIAL Class AAA postseason slot for the second consecutive season. The victory also moved the Warriors into a first-place tie with idle West Mifflin (11-2, 7-2) for the Section 3 lead.

“That's a big thing out of the way, knowing that you're going back to the dance,” Rutherford said. “Now we have to take it one game at a time and go after the section and see what we do.”

Not only did Elizabeth Forward earn a spot in the postseason, but it brought a date as well. The Warriors' win also locked up a playoff berth for West Mifflin, which has not been to the Class AAA tournament since losing to Connellsville in the first round in 1998 when there were only two softball classifications.

“It's great, and I already told the kids and they're excited,” West Mifflin coach Casey Phillips said. “It's one of those things where a couple kids said that we got it, but we've still got to take care of business because we want to win out and get a part of the section title. We're excited, but we're not complacent.”

If the teams remain tied for first, both would be recognized as section champions. Elizabeth Forward would get the higher seed in the playoffs because it swept West Mifflin in their two section games.

Though it was a bit strange for the Warriors to help their rivals make the playoffs, they weren't disappointed about it.

“I have no problem with that because I like the kids over at West Mifflin, even though it's a rivalry-type game with them,” Rutherford said. “We kind of dragged them in, but hopefully they're on the other side of the bracket and we don't have to face them until the championship game. That would be nice.”

While Elizabeth Forward and West Mifflin locked up postseason berths, Yough's loss pushed the team to the brink of elimination. The only thing that saved the Cougars from being eliminated was Southmoreland pulling off a 3-1 victory over South Park.

For Yough to qualify for the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, it will have to win its final two games against West Mifflin and Southmoreland and hope South Park loses its last two against Belle Vernon and Thomas Jefferson.

“It's gotta be tough, because what you're always working for is a chance to dance and it doesn't look like we'll make it this year,” Yough coach Lucas Cannizzaro said. “You're always preparing for next year as much at the same time you're working on this year's team. There's always the bright spots and the younger kids that are developing, and if you look at our team, every time we've played a team the second time it was a lot closer or we beat them.”

Yough probably could have won this game thanks to freshman pitcher Macy Mularski, who struck out eight and did not allow an earned run. But the Cougars' defense, which has been ravaged by injuries the last couple of weeks, committed six errors,.

“You hope next year it's going to be a little easier with the injuries, but accidents happen,” Cannizzaro said. “There's always bright things that we're looking for in the future.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kbarnes@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KBarnes_Trib.

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