Late homer seals Greensburg Salem's PIAA victory over Thomas Jefferson
Greensburg Salem senior Madison Hantz wound up giving herself an early graduation present Thursday, and it's likely she would have shared it with her teammates later that night at the school's planned ceremonies.
For awhile, though, a gleeful Hantz was keeping it all to herself.
Just hours before the Greensburg Salem softball players were to join their classmates for the long-awaited, year-end graduation festivities, Hantz led off the top of the seventh inning at Baldwin with her first home run of the season to send the Golden Lions into the PIAA Class AAA softball semifinals with a 2-1 victory over WPIAL champion Thomas Jefferson.
“I was just looking to get on base,” she said, “but I got a little more than I thought. We'll take this and go from here.”
Hantz drove a pitch by Thomas Jefferson's Lacie Lautner over the left-field fence to break a 1-1 tie and help Greensburg Salem avenge a 4-3 loss to TJ in the WPIAL semifinals.
Greensburg Salem entered the WPIAL playoffs as the top-seeded team in Class AAA but dropped the previous decision to Thomas Jefferson after the Jaguars used a three-run rally in the seventh, sparked by Kyla Prickett's leadoff homer, to prevail.
On Thursday, the tables turned with Hantz's seventh-inning roundtripper.
“The second I hit it, I thought, ‘It has to be over the fence,' ” said Hantz, who homered four times last season but hadn't belted a long ball this year until her game-winning hit Thursday.
“It couldn't have come at a better time,” she said.
Greensburg Salem (18-2), the WPIAL's third-place team, moves on to the PIAA semifinals Monday against District 1 champion Springfield Delco (21-3) at a time and site to be determined.
It is the furthest the Golden Lions have advanced in the postseason. They were eliminated in the PIAA quarterfinals in 2013.
“I thought both teams were even,” Greensburg Salem coach Jody Morgan said.
They were at that, each scoring a total of five runs in the two-game season series.
“This is the type of thing I thought would happen in order for someone to win,” Morgan said. “I'm glad it was us that did it. We have a nice power team. This team hits home runs. We're ready to move on, and I think we have what it takes to win a state championship.”
The victory comes three days after Greensburg Salem opened the PIAA playoffs with a 2-0 triumph over District 10 champion Warren.
Thomas Jefferson (16-7), which won its first WPIAL title by beating Mars in the championship game, saw its five-game winning streak end. The Jaguars beat District 6 champion Bellefonte, 8-3, in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs to advance.
“We're very proud of this team. They had a spectacular season,” Thomas Jefferson coach Heidi Karcher said. “I want them to remember that. They have nothing to be ashamed of. Greensburg Salem is a tough, tough team. We didn't take advantage of some opportunities. We have to be able to manufacture more runs.”
Claire Oberdorf homered to lead off the game for Greensburg Salem, but Thomas Jefferson tied the score in the bottom of the first. Prickett's sacrifice fly drove in Rachel Bowers, who singled and moved to third with the help of a passed ball and a wild pitch.
On the mound, Greensburg Salem senior and Pitt-Johnstown recruit Melissa Wagner dueled with Thomas Jefferson's Lautner, a sophomore, to keep the teams off the board until Hantz's homer in the seventh.
Wagner pitched a four-hitter with seven strikeouts and one walk for Greensburg Salem, whose only other loss came in the regular season to Class AAAA Penn-Trafford. She ended the game by setting down the Jaguars in order.
Thomas Jefferson had just one hit after the fourth inning: Prickett's leadoff double in the sixth. But Wagner retired three of the next four batters to escape the jam.
Lautner gave up five hits, struck out four and walked four for Thomas Jefferson, with none of the free passes coming after the third inning.