Valley tops Neshannock to stay unbeaten
As easy as the unbeaten Valley softball team has made it look at times this season, there was one thing many of the Vikings' players had been unfamiliar with before Wednesday — postseason softball.
The top-seeded Vikings got off to a shaky start in their first-round WPIAL Class AA matchup with No. 16 Neshannock, but they eventually found their way in a 4-0 win at North Allegheny.
"We didn't make the playoffs last year, so obviously, we had the jitters early," Valley coach Carol Perroz said. "But as things moved along and we started to settle in a little, we started to come back to Valley softball."
And in a game where the Vikings were a bit out of sorts early, their season-long stabilizing force, junior pitcher Caitlin Nealer, was there to keep things in order — and Neshannock off of the scoreboard.
After yielding a base hit to the first batter she faced, Nealer gave up only one more single the rest of the game and had 14 strikeouts in seven innings of work. At the plate, she got Valley's offense started with an RBI double in the top of the fourth that broke a scoreless tie.
"We haven't played since last Monday, but I feel that she was able to settle in rather quickly," Perroz said. "The first inning was a little rough, but she settled in after that."
Neshannock starter Amanda Furst looked settled in right from the start. She retired nine of the first 10 hitters she faced and struck out five batters in that span.
In the fourth inning, however, Valley's Kelsey Bonk led off with a single off of Furst. Bonk then moved to second base on a groundout in the next at-bat and to third on a passed ball. From there, Nealer's double drove Bonk home.
"I think it got it started there," Nealer said, "and I showed everybody we can hit it, we can do it."
Valley built on its lead further with a three-run burst in the sixth.
With runners on second and third and no outs, Vikings catcher Casey Bonk set up a squeeze play with a bunt in front of the pitchers mound. Furst fielded the ball and attempted to flip it to Lancers catcher Caitlin Binder, but the throw went over Binder's head. Allison Rayburn and Kelsey Bonk then scored for Valley on the throwing error, bringing the score to 3-0.
In the next at-bat, Bonk scored her second run of the game from third base on a Katrina George groundout.
Now in the quarterfinals, the Vikings will play the winner of today's first-round game between No. 8 South Park and No. 9 McGuffey. The time and site for Valley's quarterfinal is still to be determined.
With a game of playoff experience now under Valley's belt, Perroz's message to her team before its next postseason foray will be simple.
"The seniors picked our motto this year," Perroz said. "It was 'Believe,' and that's what we're going to continue to go with."