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Pep talk inspires McKeesport softball team

Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For Daily News
McKeesport's Jess Beitler delivers a pitch against West Mifflin on Friday, April 19, 2013, in McKeesport.

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By Keith Barnes
Monday, April 29, 2013, 12:46 a.m.

McKeesport has played from in front most of the season, but after the Tigers saw their 10-game winning streak end against West Mifflin and followed it with another loss to Elizabeth Forward, they got a quick sit-down for a much-needed pep talk.

“I've been telling them all week that, if the fall behind, they need to come out and keep fighting,” McKeesport coach Missy Conrad said. “We have some pretty good bats on this team.”

It turned out to be sage advice after McKeesport fell into a three-run hole Saturday against rival Plum. Instead of collapsing, the Tigers rallied for an 11-5 romp that locked up at least a share of the Section 2 championship for the first time since 2010.

With a win over either Allderdice on Tuesday at Frick Park or at home Thursday against Gateway, McKeesport (13-2, 10-0) will clinch the outright title. The Tigers have already locked up a spot in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years, but being alone atop the section at season's end will keep them motivated for the next week.

“They still have to keep playing the next two section games and win at least one of them,” Conrad said. “But having a share of the section, that's always a good thing and it feels good.”

What doesn't hurt is how McKeesport rebounded from those two losses. In their last three games, the Tigers have scored 43 runs (14.3 per game) and won two by the 15-run rule. They are the only WPIAL Class AAAA team not to have lost to another Class AAAA squad this season.

Part of the reason for the offensive surge has been the production of freshman shortstop Vanessa Falce, who hit two home runs in a game twice this week. The first time was in a 17-1 win over Woodland Hills; the other was against Plum when she hit and inside-the-park homer in the bottom of the first, then tied the game with a three-run bomb off Mustangs starter Karlie Serakowski.

“It's huge because I didn't play that well in the field, and just to hit those balls that far, felt great,” Falce said. “Winning the section, I don't even know. It's definitely one of the best feelings I've had in a long time.”

While Falce took care of the scoring early, the rest of the team quickly followed suit and chipped in. Chelsea McClung went 3 for 4. She drove in and scored a run during the game-changing, six-run third, which was ignited by Falce's three-run homer.

McKeesport's offense really got going at the bottom of the order. The 7-8-9 hitters — McClung, Kai and Mai Gooden — combined to go 6 for 11 with two doubles, a triple, four RBI and two runs scored.

If nothing else, McKeesport's win over Plum showed the rest of the WPIAL that even on a day when junior pitcher Jess Beitler doesn't have her best stuff, the Tigers can hit their way to a win.

Beitler struck out six, but she retired the side in order only once — in the top of the first — and pitched with runners in scoring position in five of the other six innings.

“It helps me for future situations because that might happen again,” Beitler said. “But winning the section, that was our goal. We accomplished our goal.”

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

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