West Mifflin tops Mt. Pleasant for 1st playoff win in 15 years
West Mifflin may not have qualified for the WPIAL softball playoffs in 15 years, but the Titans weren't in any way intimidated by perennial tournament participant Mt. Pleasant in their first postseason game since 1998.
In fact, they were downright dominant Thursday as third baseman Syd Zalice went 3 for 4 and capped off seven-run fifth inning with a grand slam, while Alyssa Cairns and Amanda Leschak each drove in three as Class AAA seventh-seeded West Mifflin (16-4), the Section 3 co-champion, rolled to a 16-2, five-inning victory over No. 10 Mt. Pleasant (11-10) at Hempfield.
“I didn't see 16-2 coming, but we hit the ball better in practice than we have in a month,” West Mifflin coach Corey Phillips said. “We talked about not only hitting the ball well but opportunistic hitting, and we didn't leave a lot of runners on base (five), we were able to manufacture runs and we knew in the playoffs we were going to have to hit.”
Zalice led a 14-hit attack that chased Mt. Pleasant starter Ashley Pospisil in the fifth inning. She gave way to Jocelyn Gula for three batters, the second of which was Zalice, who drilled a 1-1 offering over the left-center field fence to close the scoring.
About the only thing that didn't go perfectly for West Mifflin was Zalice's home run trot. She was watching the ball as she ran up the baseline and stumbled about halfway to first.
“I took a little tumble right there, but it felt great coming off the bat. But I was going all the way around the bases. It didn't matter,” Zalice said. “I had nerves all day, but this is crazy because it's the biggest game we've all ever played.”
Mt. Pleasant is playing in Class AAA for the first time since 2006 after the PIAA's biennial realignment. The Vikings had been to the Class AA playoffs the previous six seasons and made it to the second round in 2012.
“Everything that a child had done that we had worked on hard to correct, happened all in one game,” Mt. Pleasant coach Monica Cox said. “I told them on the bus on the way here that if we're going to lose, we're going to beat ourselves, and that's exactly what happened.”
For a brief moment in the top of the first it appeared West Mifflin was in for a struggle. After Leschak led off with a walk, Kaytlyn Andress struck out and, on the third strike, Vikings catcher Kayla Queer picked Leschak off first base for a double play.
As it turned out, that was one of the few things that went right for Mt. Pleasant.
“In the first inning they should have had all kinds of momentum getting that girl off first base and it just went downhill,” Cox said. “We go as Ashley goes, and it was not her day by any means.”
West Mifflin scored four runs in the top of the second on a bases-loaded walk, two wild pitches and ground out. The Titans had a 6-0 lead before Pospisil drove in the Vikings first run in the third and were up 9-1 until Gula homered to lead off the fourth.
That was all Mt. Pleasant could muster against West Mifflin starter Paige Flore, who allowed five hits, struck out one and did not issue a walk.
“One thing about Paige is that she's going to throw her game,” Phillips said. “She focuses on the task at hand, and we expect her to do her job no matter what the situation.”
West Mifflin should get a better test Monday or Tuesday when it plays No. 2 Trinity, a 13-3 winner over Brownsville, at a site and time to be determined.
“We've had a lot of big games this season, and obviously the playoffs are a different animal,” Phillips said. “We've had big games in the regular season … and we've got to be thinking about next week.”