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NA rolls into WPIAL semis

| Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Once again, the third inning was the charm for North Allegheny in Tuesday's WPIAL Class AAA softball quarterfinal game against Canon-McMillan at Fairhaven Park.

The Tigers won their opening-round game over Montour with an eight-run third inning.

This time, it was a five-run third that gave North Allegheny all the offense it would need as junior Becca Rich threw her second consecutive shutout to beat Canon-McMillan, 5-0.

"It doesn't matter what inning it is right now, but it is a characteristic of this team to be able to bunch hits together," North Allegheny coach Rick Meister said. "It was all done with two outs, which to me is an even bigger accomplishment."

The game storylines aren't the only thing that are familiar for North Allegheny (16-3). The Tigers will play Section 5 rival Shaler (13-4) in the semifinals next Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. North Allegheny beat Shaler three times in four meetings last season, including the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs, but Shaler won both regular-season meetings this year, 6-5 on April 16 and 3-2 April 29.

"I somehow knew it was going to happen," Meister said. "We always seem to run into one another. Shaler is an excellent team. They are playing very loose right now. It's going to be a heck of a game."

North Allegheny won eight in a row since the second loss to Shaler.

"The couple of times we played them, I don't think we were on our game," Rich said. "I know I was not doing my best pitching. We just had errors. I'm not too worried about it. I'm excited to play them again. I just want another crack at them."

Rich has been doing her best pitching in the playoffs, and she was particularly dominant yesterday, striking out 12 and giving up only three hits and one walk. She also overcame errors in the first two innings and struck out the side in the second and seventh innings.

"It is absolutely a good thing for any coach to see she is not going to be rattled," Meister said. "I've never seen Becca be critical of anybody but herself.

"Becca does a terrific job, but with a lead, she is even more smelling that blood. Now she's got something to guard. When we do have that big inning for her, she becomes very dominant."

Junior right fielder Sarah Piranian started the big third inning with a one-out bunt single. Junior center fielder Maddie Nestor bunted her to second and she went to third on senior second baseman Amanda Howard's infield single.

After Howard stole second base, junior catcher Nicole Lenart hit a grounder that Canon-McMillan second baseman Kelly Lauterbach booted, allowing Piranian and Howard to score.

"If you make errors, usually you are not going to win the game," Canon-McMillan coach Michelle Moeller said. "The difference was the error."

North Allegheny junior shortstop Amy Phillips kept the big inning going when she bounced an RBI single just out of the reach of Canon-McMillan shortstop Jessica Schreffler. Then junior third baseman Dori Nunley homered for the second consecutive game, once again putting a two-run shot over the fence in center field.

"The home run, we just missed a spot," Moeller said. "We just got it up a little bit in the zone. We wanted to keep it down."

"It's a lot easier," Rich said of pitching with a big lead. "We have a couple runs in case something happens, but I'm still focusing on not letting anybody score."

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