Refocused Hempfield advances past Shaler to PIAA quarterfinals
When the Hempfield softball team defeated North Allegheny to win the WPIAL Class AAAA softball championship last week, coach Bob Kalp gave his players the bus ride back to celebrate their achievement.
Once they were home, it was time to focus on the next and final step of their season and the ultimate goal of winning the state championship.
On Monday, the Spartans got closer to that goal by defeating Shaler, 6-1, in the first round of the PIAA tournament at Fox Chapel.
It was the 11th win in a row for Hempfield (19-2). Shaler ends its season 16-6 after finishing third in the WPIAL.
“Every step of the way the stakes go up and it gets more difficult, and it gets harder and harder because you have to put the feeling of success behind you,” Kalp said. “Forget about the fact that you won the section and forget about the fact that you won the WPIAL.
“This is a total new beast now. You're starting from square one and everyone's starting from the same place. This game today was very, very tough because coming off the WPIAL championship it's easy to get lulled to sleep and think that everything's going to be OK because you're WPIAL champions.”
Shaler jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first inning when leadoff batter Lauren Miller was hit by a pitch and Brianna Dobson drove her in with a two-out single.
Titans pitcher A.J. Nichols didn't allow a hit for three innings, but the fourth would be the inning from which Shaler could not recover.
Hempfield's Kelsie Hendrick led off with a single, Jenna Osikowicz was hit by a pitch and Michaela LeDonne singled down the left-field line to load the bases. Winning pitcher Morgan Ryan grounded out but drove in Hempfield's first run, then Taylor Blevins doubled to center field to send another two runs across the plate. Madison Stoner hit an RBI single to make it 4-1.
“Whenever the game's close it's nerve-racking, but once you get a couple runs everyone's mood's up,” Ryan said. “It's definitely a lot more relaxing.”
Ryan drove in two more runs with two outs in the fifth with a double to left field.
Shaler left two runners on base in the fourth and sixth innings as it struggled to take advantage of opportunities against Ryan and a stingy Hempfield defense.
“I think it's probably the best defensive team I've seen in a long, long time,” Shaler coach Skip Palmer said. “That could be the state champs right there. That's a really good team, and if you don't come to play every inning with your ‘A' game, you're going to end up on the short end of the stick like we did.”
Hempfield advanced to Thursday's PIAA quarterfinals, where it will face North Allegheny (21-3) for the third time this season at a time and site to be determined.