Mohawk High’s battery gave the team a positive charge yesterday.
The pitcher-catcher duo of Jaki Bender and Lucia Fee powered the Lady Warriors softball squad to a 7-0 victory over Brentwood in the first round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs at North Allegheny High School.
Bender (13-3) was electric from the pitching circle, allowing just three hits and no walks in seven innings. Included in her 93-pitch performance were 1-2-3 innings in the first, third and seventh.
“I was struggling a lot lately,” Bender said. “This just really made my confidence level go up a lot. My defense was there for me whenever I needed them. On offense, we were hitting the ball. We were just doing well.”
It mostly was smooth sailing for Mohawk’s ace, although she did get into a bit of trouble in the bottom of the third. An error allowed leadoff hitter Meghan Gildea to reach, and a single by the Lady Spartans’ Miranda Klein put two runners on with nobody out. However, Bender was able to work out of the inning just six pitches later via two flyouts and a bouncer to sure-handed shortstop Shelby Brown to end the threat.
“That’s my defense right there,” Bender said. “They made the plays after (the runners got on), and I just kept pitching the way I should be and everything worked out.”
A winning attitude contributed to Bender’s strong performance in the circle. That, and an arsenal of pitches that baited 10th-seeded Brentwood (9-5) into swinging at early pitches.
“It’s very different (in the playoffs). I got to motivate myself more than ever. This is what I want. I want to win. It’s something that I look forward to,” she said. “My drop curve, screwball and riseball, everything was working pretty well. I think it’s a lot easier sometimes (to face an unfamiliar opponent), but sometimes it’s not. You can pitch them whatever, but then if you see them start hitting that, you just mix it up on them.”
Bender’s battery-mate, Fee, was conducting quite the performance of her own at the plate, finishing 2 for 2 with a walk and a team-high four RBIs.
Fee’s big day begin in the first inning. After an infield single by speedy leadoff hitter Leah Woytek, a sacrifice bunt by Haley Sainato advanced her to second. Brown grounded into a fielders’ choice with the Lady Spartans recording the out of Woytek at third.
Seventh-seeded Mohawk’s inning wasn’t short circuited quite yet, as Brown scooted her way to third after two stolen bases, setting up Fee for an RBI single and quick 1-0 lead.
“Just the little we knew about her (Brentwood’s pitcher Gildea), she wasn’t a big strikeout pitcher. That gave our girls a little bit of confidence to get in there, and they did the job with getting the line shots,” Lady Warriors coach Pam Beatty said. “We had a lot of line shots that got caught, they were right at somebody, but we found the gap and hit a couple of long balls. That helped out in getting everyone on base, and then Lucia did well at the plate bringing them in.”
The top of the order once again was able to produce for Mohawk in the third. Woytek got her second infield single of the game, stealing second before a Sainato walk. Brown drove in Woytek on an RBI single, giving Fee another golden opportunity to come through in the clutch.
“I was really patient. I had confidence in myself,” Fee said. “She (Gildea) was a good pitcher, but I just hoped for the best.”
Fee would deliver with a two-run single, highlighted by a safe call on a Brown slide into home plate. The three-run inning increased the lead to 4-0, a cushion the lights-out pitching of Bender would never need.
“She did really well,” Fee said of her hurler. “Her pitches were moving and she brought the speed. She had confidence in herself.”
Familiar faces added to the Lady Warriors’ lead in the seventh. Woytek smacked her third hit of the game, this time lining a shot to right field. What should have been an easy inside-the-park home run for the lightning-quick leftfielder was limited to a triple after she tripped rounding third base. Sainato followed with an infield single and Brown walked to set up a bases-loaded situation for Fee.
This time however, the damage from Fee’s bat was kept to a minimum, but she did manage to record her fourth RBI of the contest on a sacrifice fly.
Devon Giancola followed, collecting a two-run single to extend the advantage to 7-0.
Bender retired the side in the bottom half of the inning to close out the game, registering two of her four total strikeouts in the process.
Mohawk (14-3) will move on to face Chartiers-Houston (17-0) at a time and site to be determined next week. The second-seeded Lady Bucs rolled through Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 10-0, to advance.
Said Fee of the win, “It feels great, especially cause it’s our senior year and we’ve been together forever. We keep on moving.”
Mohawk High’s battery gave the team a positive charge yesterday.
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