Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
CALIFORNIA, Pa. —
This time, the Neshannock High softball team didn’t leave Lilley Field empty-handed.
The Lady Lancers pounded the ball at the plate, Neshannock pitcher Madison Shaffer was strong in the circle and the defense came through with some sparkling plays behind Shaffer.
It all added up to a convincing 10-4 Lady Lancers win over Carmichaels in the WPIAL Class A championship game at California University. It’s the first district title for Neshannock in the program’s 16-year history. Last year, the Lady Lancers, competing in Class AA, captured their first state championship.
Top-seeded Neshannock (18-2), which is ranked No. 1 in the district in Class A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, dropped to Class A this season.
The Lady Lancers pounded out 16 hits and Shaffer recorded 12 strikeouts in tossing a complete game.
“We just hit ball hard. There was some hard hit balls and we put some runs on the board pretty quick,” Neshannock coach Tracy Kimmel said. “We had some pretty good swings.
“We had the ultimate respect for Carmichaels. They’ve been here before. They were here last year and we knew they would be a challenge to us.”
Yesterday’s district title appearance was the second for the Lady Lancers. Neshannock lost to Sto-Rox in 2006, 10-0, in 4 1/2 innings. The Lady Lancers didn’t manage a hit in that game.
“The girls really wanted to win today,” Kimmel said. “I told them, the last time we came down here in 2006, I felt like we came down to play in a championship game and Sto-Rox came down to win it.
“I told the girls, this year, we’re Sto-Rox. We’re going down there to win it.”
Neshannock advances to the PIAA Class A playoffs and will meet the loser of today’s Elk County Catholic-Keystone District 9 championship contest Monday at a time and site to be determined. The Lady Lancers will play a Cinderella regardless of who loses that game, as Elk County is seeded fourth in the District 9 playoffs and Keystone is sixth.
The third-seeded Lady Mikes (21-3) qualified for the state playoffs as the second-place team out of the WPIAL and will face Saegertown on Monday at a time and site to be determined. Saegertown won the District 10 championship.
Neshannock took control, plating six runs in the top of the second inning for a 6-0 advantage. The Lady Lancers sent 10 batters to the plate in the frame.
Shaffer, just a sophomore, delivered the big shot with a two-run triple to break a scoreless battle. Marissa DeMatteo added a two-run double later in the frame.
“When we saw that zero for us in the first inning, we knew we needed to start hitting,” said Neshannock leadoff hitter Rayanna Furst, who walked and scored in the second. “We all got wound up.
“We like to call them crooked numbers because that’s what coach Kimmel calls them.”
Kimmel recognized Shaffer’s abilities at the plate.
“She’s a good hitter for us,” he said. “She’s a pitcher first for us and a hitter second. She can hit the ball.”
The Lady Lancers tacked two more runs on in the third for an 8-0 buffer. Shaffer doubled in Alexandra Fischer and Marissa Kirkwood singled home Shaffer in the third.
“We knew we just had to get contact on the ball,” Kirkwood said. “If you get the ball in play, you can do a lot. That’s what our mentality was.”
The runs were more than enough for Shaffer (18-2). She cruised along through most of the game, allowing five hits and four runs — none earned — with four walks.
“I think you’re going to have a hard time getting to her,” Kimmel said. “She’s only going to get better.
“She works really hard. People don’t realize how hard she works on her pitching. I think she’s going to be tough to handle in the years to come.”
Neshannock roughed up Lady Mikes starter Erica Burns (21-3). Burns went the distance, giving up 16 hits and 10 earned runs with two walks and four strikeouts.
Shaffer was working on a one-hit shutout through four innings before Carmichaels responded. The Lady Mikes scored two runs each in the fifth and sixth innings to slice the deficit to 9-4. All of the runs came on errors by the Lady Lancers.
“Carmichaels is a good hitting team,” Shaffer said. “They gave us a run for our money, especially toward the end.
“They didn’t give up. It’s always good to have a game like that.”
The Lady Mikes had the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth, trailing 9-4. But Regina Menhart hit a one-hopper back to Shaffer, who fired it with authority over to Fischer at first to end the threat.
“I was just thinking get the out, don’t let the runs score,” Shaffer said of the jam. “It was a little frustration, but I just have to work through it.”
Said Furst, “Everyone has that one inning where you get caught off your toes when Shaffer is pitching a good game. We have to stay awake a little bit. Those four runs and the four errors probably shouldn’t have happened. Our defense was pretty good all the way around today.”
Madison Altmyer provided a little insurance for Neshannock in the top of the seventh, when she bounced into a fielder’s choice. Furst scored on the play for a 10-4 lead.
“That extra run was a big help,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer retired Carmichaels in order in the seventh. Danielle McClellan hit a grounder to Fischer at first, who stepped on the bag to end the game and start the Lady Lancers’ celebration.
DeMatteo and Fischer paced Neshannock’s offensive attack with three hits each, while Furst, Altmyer, Shaffer, Kirkwood and Katie Burrelli banged out two apiece.
In Today’s Print Edition ...
•A loss last year has inspired the Lady Lancers to an incredible run.
•Ron Poniewasz Jr. and Andrew Petyak share their notebook items.
Neshannock coach Tracy Kimmel talks about his team’s WPIAL title victory.