Defending champion Hempfield scores 5 runs in 8th inning to advance to PIAA final four
HERMITAGE — Opponents tend to play their best against defending PIAA champions.
Hempfield, last season's winner in Class AAAA, is finding that out during the 2017 PIAA Class 6A tournament.
For the second consecutive game in the state tournament, Hempfield was in another tight battle.
But again, the WPIAL champion pulled out another victory. The Spartans (25-0) scored five runs in the top of the eighth inning and defeated an improved District 10 champion Erie McDowell, 5-0, in a quarterfinal-round game Thursday at Hickory High School.
The Spartans needed a home run from Morgan Ryan to defeat Central York, 1-0, in the first round Monday.
Hempfield, which has won 39 consecutive games, will play District 3 champion Chambersburg (17-5) in the semifinals Monday and a time and site to be determined.
It was the second consecutive year Hempfield ended McDowell's season. Hempfield also defeated McDowell, 9-0, earlier this season.
After struggling to get hits off McDowell sophomore pitcher Rachel Marsden in the first seven innings, Hempfield strung together four straight hits in the eighth to break open the game.
“We hit too many fly balls (14),” Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said. “I knew the game would be a lot tougher. But I also knew that Morgan would be tough to beat. She and Maddie (Uschock) combined for 15 strikeouts earlier this year against them.”
Ryan allowed only two hits and struck out 12. She worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning.
Jordan Bernard started things in the eighth, bouncing a single off Marsden. Kelsey Tobin then lined a single to left to advance Bernard to second. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, and Ali Belgiovane singled to center to score Bernard.
“I was trying to hit the ball hard somewhere,” Belgiovane said. “It worked out. We knew if we'd get Morgan the lead, we'd be OK. Everyone plays their best against us. We have a big ‘X' on out chest.”
Laura Fox, who had three hits, looped a single to center that scored Tobin. Ryan then drove in a run with a groundout, Madi Stoner singled in a run and Stacey Walling's double off the left-field fence plated the fifth run of the inning.
Both teams threatened in the third inning, but the game then turned into a pitchers' duel.
Marsden allowed three hits through the first seven innings for McDowell (15-6). Hempfield tagged her for five in the eighth.
“We were a hit away from winning the game,” McDowell coach Maureen Wolfe said. “I'm proud of the girls. We start four sophomores and three freshmen, and we hung with a team that has seven seniors. This was a good learning experience for us.”
Ryan, a Notre Dame recruit, said the team's poise in tight situations is a big reason for continued success.
“I'm confident that my defense will make plays,” Ryan said. “They never seem to panic.”