Corey J. Corbin
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Madison Shaffer nearly was unbeatable last year.
The scary thought for opponents of the Neshannock High softball team is the junior pitcher may be even better in her second year inside the circle.
“She’s been a pretty dominating pitcher these past couple of years,” Lady Lancers coach Tracy Kimmel said. “She has good speed and she has some other pitches.
“She’s starting to get the command now where she’s around the plate more. Last year, she was (up in the zone) and got behind with a lot of 3-0 counts. We told her to go after the batter, sprinkle in her changeup and she’d be OK.”
Shaffer has been more than OK this year.
Through Thursday’s 11-0 win over Burgettstown, she has posted a 12-1 record with 68 strikeouts and a 1.11 ERA over 54 innings.
“She works hard at it,” Kimmel said. “She works with her dad (former Riverside player Jeff Shaffer) a lot. She deserves everything she gets. If you work hard at it like she does, it’s only a matter of time until you have success.”
EARNING THE NOD
Shaffer needed just 84 pitches — 61 for strikes — to secure a perfect game in a 7-0 win over Vincentian Academy in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals on May 20. She struck out 10 batters in the contest.
Shaffer broke a scoreless stalemate with a third-inning grand slam and finished with five RBIs to lead Neshannock to a 11-0 victory over Burgettstown in the WPIAL semifinals at North Allegheny.
She allowed just two hits and struck out five in the win over the Lady Blue Devils.
The performances earned her Lawrence County Athlete of the Week honors, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
“That’s the first perfect game that I’ve been involved in that went seven innings,” Kimmel said. “She pitched pretty good last week. She only gave up two hits and one of those should have been caught. She didn’t give up anything hard.
“She’s swinging the bat well right now, period. I like the ones that leave the yard, especially when there’s a few on base.”
Shaffer was unaware of her perfect game until Kimmel’s post-game speech.
“I didn’t know I threw a perfect game until afterwards,” she said. “That’s not something I worry about while I’m in the game. I’m focused on getting outs and doing well for my team.”
Kimmel acknowledged the positives of Shaffer not being aware of her potential milestone during the game.
“She didn’t know she did it until we talked about it after the game,” he said. “That’s a good thing, too, because then you get to trying too hard when you know about it.”
With as many as five left-handed batters in the starting lineup, the Lady Lancers picked up on a trend to Burgettstown pitcher Kate Tarr’s pitch selection.
“We noticed early on against lefties — and I’m assuming for righties as well — that she was throwing inside,” said Shaffer, who drove in teammates Jenna DeLuca, Marissa DeMatteo and Cassidy Burrelli on the grand slam. “We moved up in the box and watched the ball. We made sure we hit it.”
Shaffer didn’t notice how far the ball traveled.
“I couldn’t really tell,” she said. “My philosophy is to run it out no matter what. I was just worried about getting to first.”
The four runs didn’t hand the Lady Lancers the win, though.
“They were nice, because it got us up,” Shaffer said. “But, we have to play hard either way.”
DEVELOPING A BOND
Shaffer deferred all credit for her perfect game to her catcher, sophomore Marissa Kirkwood.
“It’s all on my catcher,” Shaffer said. “She calls the pitches. I just throw them. My teammates backed me up. It’s nice to have the confidence moving on in the playoffs, knowing you’ve thrown one.”
The bond between her and Kirkwood is important, Shaffer said.
“Pitchers and catchers have to understand each other,” she said. “Catchers have to know what pitches are working for the pitcher. Pitchers have to be able to shake them off. You have to be comfortable with each other in order to be successful.”
ATTACKING AN OUTING
Shaffer attacks every game the same no matter its magnitude.
“You have to have the mindset that every game is a WPIAL game no matter if it’s a section game, a nonsection game or the actual WPIAL championship game,” she said. “You have to be focused going into every single game.”
She has a four-pitch arsenal, including a fastball, curveball, screwball and changeup.
“My curveball and changeup are pretty decent,” she said. “I’ve worked on every one equally. I prefer the curveball on a 0-2 pitch, so I can get the strikeout.”
Kimmel isn’t sure which one of the four is her best pitch.
“I’d say her fastball or change, but she seems to like her curveball,” he said. “If she takes some speed off it, it could be an effective pitch.”
No matter the pitch, where she places it is paramount to the Lady Lancers’ success.
“Location is extremely important,” Shaffer said. “The way our team is set up, they know what pitch is coming. I have to hit a specific mark or our fielders will be out of place.”
Shaffer and her top-seeded Lady Lancers teammates will meet Section 4-A rival South Side Beaver for the third time this season in the WPIAL championship game at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow at California University of Pennsylvania’s Lilley Field.
“It’s always nice to go back,” she said. “It’s what we’ve been working towards all year. I feel like our team’s ready. We’ve been practicing hard and been focusing this year, so hopefully, the best will happen.”
Neshannock (15-2) is looking to win its second-straight WPIAL title and is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The squad has won both previous meetings (14-8, 10-3) with the seventh-seeded Lady Rams (16-3).
“We know we have to work equally hard whether we’re ranked first or ranked last,” Shaffer said. “Everybody is watching all the time. You have to play your best.”
The Lady Lancers are under less pressure this season than they were in 2013 when the team entered the WPIAL title game as defending state champions.
“I think there was more on us last year than this year,” Kimmel said. “We have three or four kids in there now that weren’t in there last year. Last year, we were dropping down in class and people were expecting us to run right through these Single-A teams. There’s good teams out there at any level and you can get beat any day.
“There’s always going to be pressure there, especially when you win a lot. It’s all about how you handle things. For the most part, we’ve handled it fairly well.”
THE MADISON SHAFFER FILE
PARENTS: Jeff and Judy Shaffer.
KNOWN FOR: Throwing a seven-inning perfect game in a 7-0 victory over Vincentian Academy in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals at South Side Beaver High School. She also nailed a crucial grand slam and finished with five RBIs in an 11-0 win over Burgettstown in the semifinals at North Allegheny.
FAVORITE PLAYER AND WHY: Keilani Ricketts. “She pitched for Oklahoma last year. I like her because of her work ethic and I thought she was fantastic. They won the College World Series, so I thought she was a great role model.
FAVORITE TEAM AND WHY: Akron Racers. “Their owner is very professional and she gives a lot to the community.”
FUTURE PLANS: “I verbally committed to Penn State as a pitcher last November. I’d like to major in something in the mathematics field.”