Valley secures PIAA softball berth
Both Valley senior Caitlin Nealer and Montour's Kaitlyn Kutchman pitched their team to WPIAL championships last season.
When the two met Tuesday at California (Pa.) University's Lilly Field, though, there wasn't a title on the line. It was about survival.
Nealer, Allegheny College recruit, drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the sixth inning to lead Valley (14-2) to a 5-2 victory over the Spartans in the WPIAL Class AAA consolation game.
The Vikings earned the WPIAL's third and final berth in the PIAA Class AAA tournament. Valley will play the winner of today's District 9 championship game between Punxsutawney and St. Marys in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament. That matchup will take place Monday at a District 9 site at a time to be determined.
"We discussed after the game that we won the WPIAL title last year and we had no chance this year, but the state title is an opportunity," Valley coach Carol Perroz said. "We've won the WPIAL (Class AA) title in 2007 and 2010, but we haven't won the state title. We're gearing up really hard for it because it's all we've got left, and the seniors don't want to quit yet."
Montour (13-5) was the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion, and Valley won Class AA in 2010 before PIAA realignment moved the Vikings up in classification.
Leading 5-1 with one out in the seventh, Nealer got a little wild. She allowed a single to Paige Daley and two walks to load the bases. Montour's Alyssa McMurtrie hit a sacrifice fly, and Stacy Capp flied out to center to end the game.
Nealer finished with eight strikeouts and an uncharacteristic three walks.
"We're hoping for a blast there and I think all the fans were thinking the same thing, and the girls that were up had the capabilities of doing it," Montour coach Bill Wills said. "But she's one of the top pitchers in our classification, and we just didn't hit when we needed to hit."
Valley, which scored only one run in its last 14 innings and was coming off a 2-0 loss to Ambridge in the WPIAL semifinals, took the lead with two outs in the top of the first. Nealer hit a 3-2 pitch from Kutchman over the left field fence and into the netting covering the bullpen to give the Vikings a 1-0 lead.
"It set the tone for everyone," Nealer said. "At that point we all said that we're going to hit, we're going to field and we're going to go out there and do the best we can."
Despite that optimism, Valley allowed an unearned run in the bottom of the third. Montour leadoff hitter Adelina Caliguire reached on an error and scored the unearned run on Capp's groundout to second.
Any thoughts of the Spartans getting back into the game were stymied in the top of the sixth. Allison Rayburn led off with the second of her two doubles and scored on Nealer's sacrifice fly. Valley scored three runs in the top of the seventh, including two on Kelsey's Bonk's triple.
"It was nice to have that crooked number put up there in the seventh because it gave us a little leeway and we started to use it," Perroz said. "They didn't quit, they battled us the whole time, and that's a credit to that team."