New Castle News
The Neshannock High softball team is picking up where it left off last postseason.
The defending PIAA Class AA champions began their pursuit of a WPIAL Class A crown and a state playoff return with a resounding statement, posting a 14-0 decision over Serra Catholic in the WPIAL quarterfinals at North Hills High School. The game ended because of the mercy rule in the fifth.
“This is the fun time of the year,” Lady Lancers coach Tracy Kimmel said. “It’s what you play for in high school.”
It didn’t take long for top-seeded Neshannock (16-2) to shake off the rust of a first-round bye, as the offense plated seven runs against the ninth-seeded Lady Eagles (11-7) in the opening inning. It was the first taste of Class A playoff action for this current group of Lady Lancers. The team dropped from AA to A to start the season because of enrollment numbers.
“We got a good jump on them. In the playoffs, it’s pretty hard for a team to come back from that,” Kimmel said. “The bats tend to tighten up more than anything else. You’re in pretty good position when you get a jump on things.”
Aided by three Serra Catholic errors in the first, Neshannock also got help from the bats of Marissa DeMatteo, who lined an RBI triple, and Marissa Kirkwood, who capped the run-scoring barrage with a two-out triple that brought home three.
“Kirkwood’s a ninth grader and we moved her into catching. We try to not put too much on her plate with catching (pitching ace Madison) Shaffer. She’s done a pretty good job (hitting) out there when she’s had a chance.”
For the game, the Lady Lancers had 10 hits, eight of which went for extra bases. Of those eight extra base hits, two were home runs, five were triples and one was a double. Neshannock piled on five runs in the second and added a run each in the third and fourth.
“We hit a lot of balls to the fence it seemed like,” Kimmel said. “We’re where we need to be. We hit the ball pretty good all year.”
Rayanna Furst had a team-high four hits, including a triple, two singles and an inside-the-park home run in the fourth to go with four RBIs. Katie Burrelli was 1 for 2, hitting a home run in the second in the more conventional way — over the fence. DeMatteo had two hits — both triples — with two runs scored and Alexandra Fischer added a triple and a double.
Defense and pitching also were up to the task for the Lady Lancers in this one.
“We always play good defense, we don’t let too much get past us,” Kimmel said. “The pitching has been pretty dominating at times this year.”
Shaffer continued to steamroll through opposing batters in making her first postseason start from the pitching circle. In five innings of work, Shaffer allowed just three hits, striking out eight, walking one and hitting a batter.
She was able to work out of several jams during the game to keep the Lady Eagles scoreless. After letting the first two runners on to start the game with a walk and a hit batsmen, she struck out the next batter, got a second out on a short flyball and was able to end the inning on a groundout.
“I think she was nervous that first inning,” Kimmel said. “That’s what strikeout pitchers can do for you. She can get those strikeouts when you need them.”
Shaffer worked out of more trouble in the second and third, leaving a runner on third in both innings.
“She’s done a great job this year. This is her first year in the spotlight in high school,” Kimmel added. “A lot of people know she’s pretty good. She has a lot of eyes on her and a lot to really live up to this year. I think she’s handled things pretty well.”
Neshannock will be back in action with a semifinal-round matchup tomorrow against fourth-seeded Frazier (18-2) at a time and site to be determined.