Pack your bags, the Neshannock High softball team is heading for the state championship — again.
The Lady Lancers clinched their second championship game appearance in as many seasons, getting plays when they needed them in a PIAA Class A semifinal-round triumph over Southern Huntingdon, 4-1.
As the ball slapped into the glove of first basemen Alexandra Fischer to record the last out of the game, a sense of relief was apparent throughout the Neshannock squad.
“It feels great,” Lady Lancers coach Tracy Kimmel said. “We’ve been looking for this game and a chance to go back there. Boy, this is what we’re looking for. This is what we were looking to do from the beginning of the year, even since last year. Our bar has been raised pretty high at Neshannock. I’m glad we got back there, but there has been a lot of pressures on these kids to get back there. They’ve handled it well, and it shows.”
The Lady Lancers (21-2) will battle Williams Valley (22-4) on Friday at 3 p.m. for the crown at Nittany Lion Softball Park at Penn State University.
Expectations and the pressure of being a defending state champion have followed the team all season. Last year in Class AA, Neshannock claimed its first state crown with a 4-3 decision over Warrior Run. Eight of the nine starters returned from that squad, hoping to discover that a repeat is all the more sweeter.
“It’s so exciting after all that pressure the entire year because everyone expected us to be back. It’s good to actually be back and not disappoint anyone,” starting right fielder Katie Burrelli said. “As a team, we handle it pretty well. With the pressure that everyone else puts on us, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as individuals.”
A second consecutive title shot may have not been possible without Burrelli’s contributions at the plate. She was 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs, including plating the first run of the game.
Burrelli’s big day may have never happened if not for quick thinking by officials. The game, originally scheduled to be played at Brockway High School, was moved early yesterday morning to Harry Noerr Field in Punxsutawney after rain made for murky field conditions at Brockway.
After the teams went scoreless through the first two innings, Neshannock had action on the bases in the top of the third. A bit of two out magic was in store, as Rayanna Furst and Jamie Graziani led off the inning and accounted for the first two outs. Marissa DeMatteo reached on an error and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Lady Rockets pitcher Julisa Zinobile. Madison Altmyer drew a walk to put two runners on for Burrelli.
She would deliver, lining a single that would plate DeMatteo and give the Lady Lancers a lead they would never relinquish.