Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
The Neshannock High softball team is looking to make history tomorrow.
The Lady Lancers are competing in their second WPIAL championship and gunning for their first district crown. Top-seeded Neshannock will battle third-seeded Carmichaels in the Class A final at 11:30 a.m. at California University’s Lilly Field.
This is the 16th season for the Neshannock softball program.
“The kids are cranked up; they’re ready to play in this game,” Lady Lancers coach Tracy Kimmel said. “They can’t wait. These kids don’t get tight.
“We’ve never won (a district championship) and that’s fueling us.”
In 2006, the Lady Lancers lost to Sto-Rox in the Class AA championship game, 10-0. The game was stopped after 4 1/2 innings because of the mercy rule.
Not only is Neshannock looking for its first district championship, the team is looking for its first hit in a district title tilt. Sto-Rox pitcher Michelle Spisak spun a complete-game no-hitter against the Lady Lancers in 2006.
Last year, Neshannock won the PIAA Class AA crown during a 24-1 season. But the Lady Lancers lost in the district semifinals to Deer Lakes, 2-0, and had to knock off Riverside (3-2) in the consolation game just to reach the state playoffs.
“I just don’t see the pressure,” Kimmel said. “This is a special group; it started last year. They don’t get too down if they fall behind.
“I think they can handle the pressure.”
Neshannock (17-2) reached the title tilt with a 9-1 win over Frazier and the Lady Mikes (21-2) advanced with a 9-0 decision over Burgettstown.
“I don’t know much about them,” Kimmel said of Carmichaels. “They’re in the same section as Frazier and they split their two games during the year. That’s all I know.”
Lady Mikes coach Dave Briggs said he watched the Lady Lancers once during the regular season.
“Neshannock is very good,” Briggs said. “I’m impressed by them. They don’t seem like they make many mistakes in the field.
“They have good hitters and they have a good all-around team.”
The Lady Mikes breezed to the championship round, winning all three of their playoff games by a combined count of 34-0.
“We’ve just been playing well in all facets of the game,” Briggs said. “We’ve been pitching well, playing good defense and we’re doing our best hitting right now.”
Carmichaels lost in the WPIAL Class A championship game last year to Chartiers-Houston, 3-2, in nine innings. The Lady Mikes have six starters returning from that squad.
“We have some experience, they’ve been there,” Briggs said of his returning players. “It’s quite an atmosphere. We had a huge crowd there last year and we’re expecting another huge one (tomorrow).”
Neshannock’s Madison Shaffer, a sophomore pitcher, is 17-2 with a 0.58 earned run average. Shaffer has 159 strikeouts in just 83 innings. This is Shaffer’s first year as a starting pitcher. Amanda Furst competed in the circle last year for the Lady Lancers.
“Madison has handled things well this year,” Kimmel said. “I thought the last game against Frazier was one of her better games this year.
“She didn’t have a whole lot of wasted pitches in that game. That was one of her better outings.”
Carmichaels pitcher Erica Burns, a righthanded sophomore, is 21-2.
“She has good velocity and a variety of pitches,” Briggs said. “She mixes speeds well, too.”
Neshannock’s Rayanna Furst, a senior center fielder, paces the team and the county in batting with a .645 average. Furst has two home runs and 23 RBIs as well.
“She’s been Ray almost every year for us,” Kimmel said. “She’s an outstanding hitter and she likes to get on base.”
Jamie Graziani, a senior shortstop, is second on the Lady Lancers in batting at .569. She has 20 RBIs as well. But Kimmel noted Graziani’s ability in the field.
“She’s really held us in a lot of games,” Kimmel said. “We probably wouldn’t have made the state playoffs last year without her.
“She has very good instincts on the infield and a very accurate arm. She gets a good jump on the ball and she’s very aggressive.”
Caroline Cree (sophomore, infielder) and Burns are both batting around .475 for Carmichaels according to Briggs.
“We have a little bit of power,” Briggs said. “It’s more doubles and triples for us, though. We have some speed, too.”