New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
A sunny day was a welcome sight for the Neshannock High softball team Saturday.
Rain had delayed the start of the Lady Lancers’ PIAA quarterfinal-round matchup against Claysburg-Kimmel the previous two days.
Needless to say, Neshannock was anxious to continue its playoff season and pursuit of a second state title in as many years.
The Lady Lancers didn’t disappoint.
Neshannock punched out six runs, including four in the fifth inning, to upend the Lady Bulldogs, 6-1, at Everett High School. Because of rain today, the Lady Lancers will face Southern Huntingdon at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Brockway High School. The Lady Rockets outdueled Carmichaels, 6-2, to advance to the semifinals.
In what amounted to a more than a three-hour bus drive after a two-day layoff from postponements and a 30-minute trip for its opponents, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Neshannock struggle.
“We were ready to play Thursday,” starting right fielder Katie Burrelli said. “We got up early two days in a row just to find out the game is (postponed). A little disappointing for not only the players, but everyone going to the game. We ended up just practicing to prepare for this day, so we were ready.”
One benefit to the delay was that Burrelli, along with seniors Jamie Graziani and Rayanna Furst, were able to attend their high school graduation without a hiccup on Thursday.
“It gave me a day to relax before commencement and get ready, rather than be rushed. I wouldn’t have minded playing,” Burrelli said.
If the Lady Lancers showed any rust, it was from their offense, but Madison Shaffer was masterful from the pitching circle.
The young hurler held the Claysburg-Kimmel offense to one run in a complete-game victory. Opponents managed just five hits, while she struck out nine and walked three. Shaffer was looking to improve on what she deemed a shaky start last week against Elk County Catholic, a game which she walked six batters and struggled through the middle innings. She was much more efficient against the Lady Bulldogs, managing to find herself in three-ball counts just four times all game.
“Especially after our last game, that was a big focus of mine to work on consistency and accuracy in the strike zone, working on the batters and working on not going into a full count,” Shaffer said.
Neshannock (20-2) opened up the scoring with a run in the top of the first. Madison Altmyer lined a single that scored Marissa DeMatteo, who reached on a walk and went to second on a throwing error.
The usually potent Lady Lancers attack scraped together just one more run through the next three innings. In the fourth, hot-hitting Alexandra Fischer, who went 3 for 3 with three triples last game against Elk County Catholic, led off the inning with a double. She came around to score on a fielding error by Claysburg-Kimmel center fielder Kala Brumbaugh.
“You have to give their pitcher some credit there,” Neshannock coach Tracy Kimmel said about his team’s lack of offense.” She’s a good pitcher. She’s probably one of the better ones we’ve seen so far. She had something to do with that. There weren’t many strikeouts on our part, so I can usually tell if we’re going to get to her or not and put things together. It was a good businesslike effort. That’s the way we play, we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It was just another step.”
Kierstin Coho held the Lady Lancers to two runs through the first four inning. She helped her own cause by delivering her team’s lone run in the bottom of the fourth on a one-out double. With a runner in scoring position, the Lady Bulldogs had a chance to not only tie it, but to put heavy doubt in a Neshannock team that hasn’t been in many close games this season. However, Shaffer was able to work out of the jam, getting Hannah Claycomb on a roller back to the circle and striking out Abigaile Kulick looking.
Shaffer didn’t allow many hits to the outfield. With the exception of the Coho double, the only ball that left the infield in the air was a flyout to center fielder Furst.
“Madison is an amazing pitcher. She doesn’t understand that we like to get the ball, too,” Burrelli joked. “No, she’s good. She knows we have her back if someone does get their bat on the ball.”
With the game still in the balance, it was Shaffer again who picked up her team —this time at the plate. In a game-deciding fifth inning, Furst led things off with a groundout. Back-to-back singles by Graziani and DeMatteo put the Lady Lancers in business. Altmyer worked a 3-2 count into a walk to load the bases for Burrelli.
Burrelli hit a slow roller to third baseman Claycomb, who was pinching in on the play. She tossed the ball to home, but catcher Courtlin Holland dropped the ball and everybody was safe.
Fischer added a single that drove in DeMatteo on the next play to increase the Neshannock lead to 4-1.
Shaffer’s single in the following at-bat served as the dagger, as it scored two runs and gave the Lady Lancers a 6-1 advantage.
Although Neshannock pieced together just six hits off Coho and left seven runners stranded, the Lady Bulldogs’ four errors gave the Lady Lancers all they would need.
“It wasn’t our best game. We actually put more pressure on them by just putting the ball in play and making them have to make the play,” Burrelli said. “There was one inning where we got to bat one through nine. That’s what we do with this team. We play together and we play through the entire game. We didn’t just let the fact that it wasn’t our best game get to us.”