Penn-Trafford locks up playoff berth, as winning continues

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 11:39 p.m.

It may not have been the start to the season the Penn-Trafford softball team was looking for, but the ending is shaping up just fine.

After a disappointing 1-2 start, coach Sam DeNillo's team, winners of six straight after beating rival Norwin, 9-1, Thursday, is one of the hottest teams in the WPIAL.

With its win Thursday, Penn-Trafford locked up a playoff berth as one of the top three teams in Section 1-AAAA.

Penn-Trafford (12-5, 8-4) blanked Hempfield, 2-0, on Tuesday, while Norwin (10-6, 6-6) shut out Connellsville, 4-0, to set up Thursday's match to determine the final postseason spot.

“This is basically our first streak of the year,” DeNillo said. “We had a big change over the course of the season and really have started playing well together. I think early on we were playing to the level of our opponents instead of going in and playing our game. There were several close games we could have won but let go. Overall, the girls have really started to jell as a team recently and are playing really well.”

During their winning streak, the Warriors, as DeNillo said, finally started to click. Penn-Trafford outscored opponents by a whopping 39-5 margin, including posting three shutouts.

The Warriors scored impressive, lopsided wins against Franklin Regional, 7-0, and Plum, 9-0.

The nonsection win over the Mustangs was a signature victory for the season; Plum (12-4) is playoff bound and in second place in Section 2-AAAA.

Penn-Trafford's bats have exploded, led by senior Lexie Ryan, juniors Jess Zavolta and Ashleigh Yanniruberto and sophomore Nicole Smith.

“We've been getting timely, big hits up and down the lineup,” DeNillo said. “We've had games where if the top of the order isn't hitting then some players at the other end are picking it up. (Senior) Danielle Wally is a perfect example of a player who has been clutch for us down there.”

The Warriors also have a deep pitching staff.

Smith who blanked the No. 4-ranked Spartans on Tuesday, allowing just four hits and zero walks, while striking out two batters. Senior Abrianna Sadler and junior Frankie Ponziani also have contributed on the mound.

“We're using three pitchers in the rotation,” DeNillo said. “It's nice to be able to spread it out. We've been able to take one girl out and put another one in, which gives us a lot of balance and flexibility.”

Beating Norwin on Thursday, wasn't an easy task.

The Knights, winners of six of their past seven outings after a surprising 0-3 start, had the Warriors' number of late. Norwin won the teams' first meeting, 11-2, earlier this season and had won three straight versus the Warriors.

Zavolta came though for Penn-Trafford on Thursday, going 3 for 4 with seven RBI, including a grand slam in the second inning.

Smith earned the complete-game victory, scattering three hits and striking out seven.

“What I liked was the girls went out there, played ball (and) didn't give up,” DeNillo said. “They came right back after a loss like they had against them (earlier this season). You can't take anything away from Norwin; that's a tough team. Our girls played well, and I think they're on a run. Hopefully they keep that up.”

Staff writer Doug Gulasy contributed. Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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