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Knoch notches first win in playoff history

| Tuesday, May 15, 2007

HAMPTON -- Montour's softball players seemed to rattle Knoch in the first few innings with their loud, incessant chanting from the bench.

But the potent Knoch bats spoke up in the fifth inning and had the final say.

Knoch rallied for five runs after two outs in the bottom of the fifth and silenced Montour, 6-2, on Monday in a WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game at Hampton Township Community Park.

With its fans displaying a banner and waving a team flag, Knoch notched the first playoff win in the program's history, which started in 1990.

For the Lady Knights, Kirsten Brant drove in three runs, including the game-winner, and Stephanie Fincher shook off a rough start to pitch six solid innings and keep her team close until the bats arrived.

What did the win mean to the Knoch players?

"Everything," senior catcher Lizz King said.

The playoff victory was another huge step for Knoch in its climb from perennial doormat status.

In 2005, the Lady Knights won only one game. Last season, in their first season under coach Scott Docherty, they went 10-9 but missed the postseason. This year, they tied for their first section title and won a first-round game.

Knoch (15-5) will meet the winner of Wednesday's game between No. 2 seed Elizabeth Forward (14-3) and Laurel Highlands (10-8) in the quarterfinals.

Yesterday's win wasn't easy.

Montour jumped on Knoch, 2-0, in the first inning. Knoch responded with an RBI single from Brant in the bottom of that frame.

But the quick start turned into a pitcher's duel, and the tension began to wear on Docherty's nerves. Worry turned to relief in the fifth.

"We believe in the theory that pitching will keep you in games, and hitting will win you games," Docherty said. "We practice hitting, hitting, hitting. I'd outlaw bunting if I could."

Knoch had two outs and runners at first and second with Brant at the plate. The junior shortstop delivered a single to left field that scored both runners and put her team ahead, 3-2.

"I don't think about the pressure," Brant said. "I just go up there and try to make some contact. Once we started hitting, that took some of the wind out of the (Montour) pitcher's sails."

Amanda Sheppeck followed with an RBI single, and Jade Thrower smacked a two-run triple to give Knoch a comfortable lead.

Fincher pitched the first six innings but walked the first batter in the seventh and was relieved by Chelsea Martin. Fincher finished with five walks and two strikeouts and gave up five hits. Martin allowed one hit and got the last three outs, including the final by strikeout.

"We always have a big inning (at the plate)," Fincher said. "That really helps give me confidence."

Montour committed a key error in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, King reached first base after a miscue by the Montour shortstop. That started Knoch's rally.

"They were able to capitalize on our mistakes," Montour coach Jen Robinson said. "We opened the door for them, and they broke it down."

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