NEW CASTLE —
This was different than the other games.
The Neshannock High softball team discovered a new way to win in each of its first two PIAA Class AA playoff matchups. There was pitching and defense and then a late-inning rally and a little bit of luck.
To reach the state finals, the Lady Lancers used speed — and a lot of it.
Neshannock reached base on nine of its 10 bunt attempts and ran away from Martinsburg Central, 15-5, in a PIAA Class AA semifinal game yesterday at St. Francis University. The game was called in the bottom of the fifth inning when Katie Burrelli scored the 15th run, putting the mercy rule into effect and sending the Lady Lancers to their first state title game in school history.
Neshannock (23-1) faces Warrior Run (24-2) at 3 p.m. Friday at Penn State University’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.
“I’m so excited,” said Neshannock senior Amanda Furst, who went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and earned the win. “I can’t wait.”
There certainly wasn’t any waiting around yesterday.
The Lady Lancers pounded out 15 hits and put constant pressure on Central’s defense, which committed five errors. The miscues led to a six-run first inning and a seven-run fifth inning. The Lady Dragons (19-7) allowed 10 unearned runs and had no answer for the team speed of Neshannock.
“This team was better and faster at what they did than I expected,” Central coach Dale Walters said. “There were times where we did everything right and still didn’t get them out. I was impressed.”
There wasn’t much to be impressed by early on for Neshannock. Central took an early lead when a walk to start the game was followed by a single and a wild pitch, putting runners at second and third with no outs. The Lady Lancers then committed their only error of the game, and Central went up 1-0. Yet, Furst was able to work out of the jam, only allowing a sacrifice fly to the next hitter, and a potentially disastrous inning was avoided.
“That’s her veteran leadership,” said Neshannock coach Tracy Kimmel about Furst, Neshannock’s only senior. “I’d rather have a senior pitcher than at any other position.”
The Lady Lancers made Central pay for not scoring more as they immediately went to work in the bottom of the first.
Leadoff hitter Rayanna Furst laid down a bunt single and moved to second on an errant throw. After another bunt single, this time by Madison Shaffer, the Lady Dragons committed their second error on a third bunt attempt. The errant throw on Marissa DeMatteo’s drag bunt allowed Furst to score, cutting the lead to 2-1. The Lady Lancers continued to show off their speed as DeMatteo stole second. She and Shaffer both scored when Amanda Furst laced a two-run single to left field, moving to second because Central forgot to cover the bag.
Madison Altmyer kept the rally going with a single, and the Lady Dragons finally recorded their first out on a pop out to the shortstop. It didn’t faze Neshannock. Katie Burrelli tagged a single to center to score two runs, and Jamie Graziani made the score 6-2 with a RBI groundout. The frame finally came to an end when Rayanna Furst, who led off the inning, flied out to deep center.
Kimmel said Neshannock has shown gradual improvement at the plate over the last few games, and yesterday was the culmination of their progress.
“I had a feeling that we were about ready to have a no-doubt game,” he said. “I’m glad we did because (Central) had some hitters. They took some pretty good cuts up there.”