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Southmoreland softball team falls in 9 innings

| Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 11:27 p.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Southmoreland's Anna Gatti delivers a pitch against West Mifflin on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

One team's desire to win a section championship met another team's passion for keeping its playoff hopes alive during Tuesday's Section 3-AAA softball game between West Mifflin and host Southmoreland.

With so much on the line, neither team gave an inch until West Mifflin's Shannon Davis smacked a two-run triple in the ninth inning to give the Titans a 4-3 win over the Scotties.

The win clinches at least a share of the section title for the Titans (13-2, 9-2), who can win the section outright with a victory over Thomas Jefferson on Thursday. West Mifflin has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1998.

“It means everything,” said West Mifflin coach Casey Phillips, noting that when he took over the program five years ago that the team was a long way from a playoff contender. “When I got here it was a culture of losing, but we saw the potential to turn things around.”

While the Titans have developed into a contender, the Scotties (5-7, 5-6) certainly have competed hard since being moved up from Class AA to AAA prior to this season.

“I think coming into this section, we knew it would be tough,” Kelley said after her team was officially eliminated from the playoff race. “But I thought we held our own and played hard. We played well. We just didn't make the playoffs.”

Five of Southmoreland's section losses have been by two runs or fewer, including Tuesday's heartbreaker.

“It was a great game,” Kelley said. “The only thing that would have made it better is if we would have won, 4-3.”

The Titans caught a couple of breaks early in the game. Two Southmoreland infield errors allowed West Mifflin to take a 1-0 lead in the first inning.

West Mifflin's Paige Flore and Southmoreland's Anna Gatti were strong on the mound, and the Titans held their slim one-run lead until the fifth.

But in the fifth, the Scotties, who outhit the Titans, 11-6, put together three hits to take a 2-1 lead. Rikki Brown and Gatti each singled before Briana Bunner knocked in both runners with a double.

In the sixth, it was the Titans' turn to rally. Kaylyn Andress singled and scored on an RBI double by Marla Small.

The game stayed deadlocked until the ninth. With one out, Sydnei Zalice and Crystal Cook walked. Davis delivered a shot down the left field line that brought in both runners.

“She had been seeing the ball well the whole game, and she had the bat speed to get to it,” Phillips said.

The Scotties' Vanessa Richards knocked in a run with a triple in the bottom of the ninth. But with two outs, Richards was left stranded at third as Flore got a groundout to seal the hard-fought win.

“It was unbelievable,” Phillips said. “Southmoreland is a great team, but we showed a lot of perseverance and we believed we could get it done.”

Despite coming up short, Kelley couldn't have been prouder of her team's effort.

“It was like a playoff atmosphere for a regular section game, and for us it was a playoff game,” Kelley said. “I'm proud of the way the girls kept fighting. We fought down to the last out. I'm proud of their drive to win, and it's a shame somebody had to lose this game.”

Jason Black is the Local Sports Editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at jblack@tribweb.com.

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