The Neshannock High softball team had to work a little harder the second time around.
The Lady Lancers beat Burgettstown for the second time this season by securing a 6-1 win yesterday at North Allegheny High School in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals.
In the first meeting, Neshannock needed just five innings to dispatch the Lady Blue Devils, 11-0, in the WPIAL semifinals two weeks ago.
“It was a good win for us and another step in the right direction,” Lady Lancers coach Tracy Kimmel said. “It’s always tougher playing a team for the second time, especially when we manhandled them the first time around. The second game is always going to be closer, but I thought the kids responded well.”
Neshannock (18-2) will make its third-straight appearance in the Final Four and will face District 6 runner-up Claysburg-Kimmel (21-4), which beat District 10 champion Iroquois, 6-1, on Monday at a time and site to be determined.
The Lady Lancers upended Claysburg-Kimmel, 6-1, at Everett High School in the PIAA quarterfinals a season ago.
“It’s amazing to go back for the third year in a row,” Neshannock junior second baseman Marissa DeMatteo said. “At Neshannock, we play for championships. This is our goal — both WPIAL and state championships.”
Neshannock wasted little time jumping on the Lady Blue Devils when DeMatteo accepted a four-pitch walk to open the game and went to second on Cassidy Burrelli’s sacrifice before scoring on Madison Shaffer’s single. Alexandra Fischer made it 2-0 with a double down the right-field line to score Shaffer.
“Every time we’re away, we know we have to jump on the other team early and shut them down,” Burrelli said. “Once you put a few runs on the board, it’s hard to come back on a team like us. We just try to pound on the ball.”
Burgettstown had a chance to cut into Neshannock’s cushion in the bottom of the second when Kate Tarr blasted a double off the center-field fence. Two outs later, pinch-hitter Emily Wilson sent a grounder between first and second.
DeMatteo made a diving stop and sent a high throw to catcher Marissa Kirkwood. The Neshannock catcher expertly corralled the ball and applied the tag to courtesy runner Darien Transue, who was trying to score from second, for the final out of the inning.
“She was so mad that ball popped out of her glove,” Kimmel said. “That usually doesn’t happen. She makes every play. She’s a dynamite player.
“That’s the way we practice. We practice that stuff. It’s not that it just comes up in a game. We expect these kids to make those throws.”
The Lady Lancers tacked on two more runs in the third inning when DeMatteo legged out a triple and scored on Burrelli’s double. Burrelli moved to third on a passed ball and scored on Fischer’s groundout to first.
Burgettstown was knocking on the door again in the bottom of the third when Cassie Carnes reached on a two-base error and went to third on Caley Ritts’ single.
One out later, Bryanna Lonick lofted a fly ball to left field and into the glove of Neshannock’s Morgan Lash. Carnes took off for home on contact before retreating back to third.
Lash’s throw was cut off by Fischer, who fired a throw to Gina Zingaro for the unconventional 7-3-5 double play.
“She lost track of what was going on,” Burgettstown coach Mark Deer said. “We’re a young team and we’ll learn from our mistakes. I’m certain of that.”
In the fourth inning, Deer replaced Lonick with Tarr in the circle after his starting pitcher suffered through control issues.
“We knew if we were going to have a chance against them we had to take some chances,” Deer said. “Kate had started against them the first time and wasn’t very successful, so we thought we’d go with a different look. Bryanna is more of a low-ball pitcher. Maybe, we’d get some more groundouts and stay away from the home-run ball. It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.
“I think a lot of it was nerves. Bryanna hasn’t pitched a lot for us this year. Last year, she was an all-section pitcher for us, but this was her fourth start this year.”
Tarr limited the Lady Lancers to just three hits over the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
“We knew (Lonick) wasn’t their normal starting pitcher, so we knew we had to be patient,” Burrelli said. “It was a completely different girl. (Tarr) was their starting pitcher the last time and I think their second baseman was the second girl they brought in (in relief). I honestly thought they were going to start the girl they started last time.”
Burrelli and Co. finally caught up with Tarr in the seventh inning.
DeMatteo walked with one away. Then, the right-handed Burrelli sent a two-strike rocket over the right-field fence for a 6-0 lead.
“It was an outside pitch,” said Burrelli, who finished with the home run, a double, two runs scored and three RBIs. “It was way outside. It was probably a ball to be honest, but I knew she was coming at me outside. She had just come at me with an inside pitch. She was more comfortable throwing outside. For her third strike, I thought she was coming outside. I stepped to the ball and just hit it.
“I was so anxious. I was hitting, but I wasn’t hitting solid. That hit really felt nice.”
Things got scary for Neshannock in the bottom of the seventh when Burrelli and Lash collided trying to track down Morgan Ellek’s shot to left-center field.
Burrelli alertly got up and fired the ball back into the infield, but not before Ellek had scored.
Both Burrelli and Lash were attended to by training staffs and coaches from both schools and ultimately stayed in the game.
“That was a hard-hit ball and it was right in between us,” Burrelli said. “As the outfielder, you know you have to be aggressive, especially in center field, I have to take everything. It was a little bit of a miscommunication, but thankfully, it didn’t hurt us in the end.”
Shaffer picked up the win in the circle by going the distance, scattering just four hits — none after the third inning — while walking just one batter and striking out six.
“She’s tough,” Deer said. “You have to lay off her junk. You have to lay off her riser and you have to lay off the changeup. You have to be disciplined. If not, you’re in for a long day. She’s that good.”
Fischer finished with a single, a double and two RBIs, while DeMatteo tripled and scored three times. Kirkwood had a pair of singles.
“It was a tough loss,” Deer said. “When you look back at the loss, we can take comfort in knowing that we lost to the best.
“It’s not just Shaffer. That team is strong one through 10. They do everything well. They all know how to play the game and they run the bases great. They’re just a good ball club.”
Ritts had a pair of singles to pace Burgettstown offensively.
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