Connellsville drops playoff opener
MONROEVILLE -- In the high school softball playoffs, one mistake or big play often makes the difference between a team advancing to the next round or having its season end.
The WPIAL Class AAAA playoff game between North Allegheny and Connellsville on Tuesday was a perfect example. In the end, North Allegheny (12-8) benefited from one big play and recorded a 2-0 victory against the Lady Falcons (11-7) at Gateway High School.
"A lot of times, a mistake can hurt you, and one run can score and make the difference," North Allegheny coach Joe Pereira said. "We were aggressive on the bases and forced them to make the plays."
The Lady Falcons, to their credit, made plenty of plays, but in the sixth inning, North Allegheny finally scored.
Through five innings, neither team could manage much offense. Connellsville pitcher Erica Bartholow and North Allegheny's Deanna Tritinger took turns blanking their opponent.
In the sixth, Mary DeMino, North Allegheny's last hitter in the order, sparked the Lady Tigers with a leadoff bunt single. She then stole second and moved to third on an infield single by Jane Miner. With no outs and runners at first and third, Miner broke for second. The Lady Falcons conceded second to Miner in an attempt to catch DeMino at third.
Connellsville catcher Tommi Nickelson gunned a throw to the third base bag, forcing DeMino to dive back headfirst. Unfortunately for the Lady Falcons, the base was vacated, and DeMino quickly got to her feet and scored as the ball rolled into left field.
"We had a play on, and a girl didn't pick it up," Connellsville coach Max Bukovac said. "But we didn't lose on an error. We lost because we didn't put any runs on the board."
Aside from that one mistake, the Lady Falcons' defense was strong. Bartholow gave up nine hits but posted seven strikeouts. Connellsville's Brooke Hoffer turned a slick double play in the fourth. The Lady Falcons notched another double play in the sixth when Kylie Sage made a perfect throw to the plate on the back end of a bunt play to gun down Miner. Also in the sixth, Nickelson threw out a runner attempting to steal third, which helped keep it a one-run game.
The Lady Falcons, however, just couldn't solve Tritinger. Connellsville put the ball in play but had only three hits. Alexis Dolde, Alena Dragovich and Sage each singled, but Connellsville never had a runner in scoring position. North Allegheny's defense was sound throughout the game.
"It's a playoff game, and they got a couple more hits than we did," Bukovac said. "Their pitcher had our number. I knew after the third inning that one run would probably win the game, and we could never get our leadoff runner on to bring our small game into play."
The Lady Tigers added an insurance run in the seventh when Stephanie Cassidy singled and scored on a single by Katie Polley. That run proved unnecessary, as Tritinger and her teammates shut the door on Connellsville in the seventh, ending their season.
"I'm proud of the kids," Bukovac said. "They played their hearts out, and you can't ask for anything else. I'm disappointed, but I'm really proud of them."
With the victory, North Allegheny advanced to the quarterfinals and will battle top-seeded Latrobe at a date and location to be determined.