Late rally not enough for Neshannock in PIAA semifinals
When No. 9 hitter Jenna DeLuca crushed a game-tying, three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning Monday, Neshannock softball coach Tracy Kimmel thought that was the break the Lancers needed.
Kimmel's gut feeling never came true.
Claysburg-Kimmel pitcher Kiersten Coho's eighth-inning double past a diving Kaela Zingaro in right field scored two and produced a 5-4 win for the Bulldogs in a PIAA Class A semifinal Monday at Hempfield.
“I thought we were in the driver's seat when we hit that three-run homer,” Kimmel said. “I really did. I thought we would come back, shut them down, come back and win. It just wasn't meant to be (Monday).”
This is the first time since 1997 that no WPIAL softball team reached the PIAA championship game. Neshannock was vying to play in the state title game for a third consecutive year after winning a PIAA Class AA championship in 2012, then finishing as runner-up in Class A last spring.
The Lancers came into this one with plenty of postseason momentum, too, outscoring opponents 43-7.
But Coho pounded the outside part of the plate and got ahead early in counts during an impressive performance that vaulted Claysburg-Kimmel (22-4) into the state final for the first time.
Coho, who improved to 16-3 and has struck out 154 over 123 innings — an average of 1.25 — allowed five hits over eight innings. She struck out five, walked one and hit one.
Sixty-five of 98 pitches went for strikes, and Coho fired first-pitch strikes to 24 of 33 hitters.
It's only the third time this season — all losses — that Neshannock (18-3) scored four or fewer runs.
“Everything we hit was right at them,” Kimmel said.
“We didn't hit a lot hard. We usually hit the ball a little better than this.”
Right fielder Abby Kulick and catcher Mallory Cox had back-to-back, one-out singles in the eighth before Coho's drive barely eluded Zingaro, who made a fantastic effort.
Zingaro finished with two of Neshannock's six hits.
Neshannock pitcher Madison Shaffer doubled and scored on shortstop Madison Altmyer's sacrifice fly in the bottom half, but that was all the Lancers could muster.
Claysburg-Kimmel took advantage of a Neshannock error to score three runs in the sixth. Morgan Keyara's bloop single scored second baseman Madison Ickes and Cox, who slid to beat the throw.
With Keyara caught between first and second, Neshannock tried to get the out at second. The throw went wide and allowed Coho to score. Cox and Coho walked to account for half of Shaffer's walk total for the game.
“(Shaffer) got a little wild and walked a couple,” Claysburg-Kimmel coach Mike Barbarini said. “We had a couple seeing-eye hits there.
“They threw the ball around a little bit, which is not typical of them. We took advantage of that.”
DeLuca drove in third baseman Gina Zingaro and her sister, Kaela, with her homer, but it turned out not to be what many, including Kimmel, expected.
Still, with only two seniors graduating and a Penn State recruit in Shaffer and a Pitt commit in junior second baseman Marissa DeMatteo returning, there is a possibility Neshannock will be back next year.
“We know when you come here, there's going to be a winner and a loser,” Kimmel said. “You have to be able to accept losing at any time. You're not going to win all the time. There's just no way.”