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.”
The Lady Dragons showed how well they could hit in the third.
Neshannock made it 7-2 with a run in the second, but Central strung together four consecutive hits and cut its deficit to 7-5 when Paige Mock smacked a two-run double to right-center field. The Lady Dragons’ rally was cut short though. Kassidy Snyder was thrown out at first on a slow roller to the pitcher, and while Mock moved to third on the play, she rounded the bag too far and was thrown out on a great throw by first baseman Alexandra Fischer.
“That’s the way we play the game,” Kimmel said. “We have good arms in the infield, and we’re very aggressive with our throws.”
Neshannock was equally assertive at the plate. The Lady Lancers tacked on another run in the fourth. DeMatteo reached on — surprise, surprise — a bunt single and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice by Burrelli. While they left the bases loaded in the fourth, they picked up where they left off in the fifth.
Two more bunt singles and another error on a bunt loaded the bases, and Amanda Furst again came through with a two-run single to left field. Things began to unravel for a defeated Central squad after that. The Lady Dragons committed an error, allowed a stolen base and gave up an RBI single to Fischer. Another error meant the game-ending run was on third, and Graziani’s roller to first base was slow enough to score Burrelli.
“The speed helped us a lot,” said Rayanna Furst, one of five Lady Lancers with multiple hits. “Throughout the season, we tried to get the slap-bunts down, get baserunners and have the power hitters hit us in.”
The game plan has Neshannock going back to a place it’s rather familiar with in Penn State University. The Lady Lancers beat Philipsburg-Osceola at Nittany Lion Softball Park in their PIAA first-round matchup with the defending state champs. The game was suspended because of rain, so Neshannock returned to State College the following day and won, 5-3, in extra innings.
The Lady Lancers, who left yesterday’s game dancing to music on the bus as they always do, hope the confines remain friendly on Friday.
“The atmosphere was really cool,” said Rayanna Furst of their first trip to Penn State. “The first day we were a little shaky with the rain. The second day we were pretty relaxed — we still had some nerves bouncing around — but everyone’s excited. They’re already jammin’ (to music) on the bus.”
Some things were different in this game. Others stayed the same.
NEW CASTLE —
This was different than the other games.
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