Ambridge outlasts West Mifflin, weather delay for semifinal victory
All season, West Mifflin was able to come up with key hits in critical situations. It's what helped the Titans reach the WPIAL Class AAA softball semifinals against perennial title contender Ambridge.
Against the Bridgers, though, they could not come through in the clutch until it was too late, and it cost them a chance at their first championship.
Ambridge center fielder Hannah Smith ripped a three-run homer in the bottom of the first, Lexi Hilzendeger chipped in a solo shot on the fifth, and the Bridgers held off a late Titans. The third-seeded Bridgers (16-3) locked up a spot in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game with a 5-4 victory over No. 7 West Mifflin (17-5) at North Allegheny.
Ambridge, which last played in the title game when it lost to Yough in 2011 and won its only championship in 2005, will play the winner of a suspended semifinal between Greensburg Salem and West Allegheny that will be finished Thursday at California (Pa.) University. West Mifflin gets the loser in a consolation game Tuesday with a berth in the PIAA Class AAA tournament at stake.
“It was a good game, and they got the better of us,” West Mifflin coach Casey Phillips said. “We still have a chance to make the state tournament, and that's never been done, and that's been a goal of ours to get that far and to keep going.”
Both teams had to wait through a 93-minute weather delay that held up play at the top of the third inning during Deer Lakes' 11-7 come-from-behind victory in the Class AA semifinals. Umpires sent the teams off the field and ordered the stands cleared while they contacted WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley and the site manager, North Allegheny athletic director Bob Bozzuto, about a course of action.
After all delays — the Deer Lakes-Beaver game had an additional 30-minute thunder stoppage prior to the one in the third inning — West Mifflin and Ambridge began 2 hours, 19 minutes late and were at North Allegheny for nearly four hours before the game got under way. Both coaches were given the opportunity to postpone the game until Thursday, but they opted to play late into the evening.
And Ambridge didn't waste any time getting going. Smith bombed a 2-0 pitch from West Mifflin starter Paige Flore over the right-center field fence for an opposite-field, three-run homer that gave the Bridgers a quick 3-0 lead.
“Any time you get up on a team, especially in a semifinal, it's a nice advantage,” Ambridge coach Bubba Huwar said. “Our pitcher (Kelly Haslett), for a 10th grader, she's got a lot of confidence, and our defense made some nice plays. They just played well.”
Haslett kept West Mifflin at bay with a solid array of off-speed pitches, including an effective changeup and a tricky drop-curve. The Titans stranded 12 runners, including eight in scoring position, and left the bases loaded twice.
They were also 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position in the first six innings, 1 for 10 in the game, and picked up their first run on a bases-loaded walk drawn by Amanda Leschak in the sixth.
“That's the bottom line, and that's the game-changer right there,” Phillips said. “We left runners on base, and when we had hits they came with two outs. We weren't as opportunistic at the plate as we needed to be.”
Despite all those problems, West Mifflin was still able to make a run at Ambridge in the seventh. With her team leading, 5-1, Haslett began to tire and allowed Syd Zalice to single in Marla Small from second for the Titans' only hit with a runner in scoring position.
Moments later, it appeared the game would end as Alyssa Cairns was caught leaning at third base by Ambridge catcher Jaymee Humbert. But Cairns got out of the rundown and stole home to close the gap to 5-3. Then Zalice scored on a two-out error to get the Titans back within a run.
That was as close as West Mifflin got, however, as the reliever, Smith, induced a popup to first to end the game.