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May 28, 2014

WPIAL Softball Playoffs: Neshannock girls looking to take home title

NEW CASTLE — Neshannock High boasted the best Class A softball team in the WPIAL last year.

Tomorrow, the Lady Lancers can prove that nothing has changed.

Neshannock will take on South Side Beaver at 11:30 a.m. at California University of Pennsylvania’s Lilley Field for the WPIAL Class A crown.

The Lady Lancers and Lady Rams have met twice in Section 4 action this year. Neshannock (15-2) won both matchups against South Side Beaver in the regular season, 14-8 and 10-3, en route to the section championship and the district’s top seed. The Lady Lancers are ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“It’s maybe a concern from an attitude perspective,” Lady Lancers coach Tracy Kimmel on his team owning two previous wins over South Side Beaver. “We had to beat Riverside three times in 2012 and we did that; talent will prevail.

“I just tell the girls to go out and play our game. It’s been more than good enough. Don’t put more pressure on yourself. Just play the way you practice.”

Kimmel was referring to the 2012 season when Neshannock beat Section 5-AA rival Riverside twice in the regular season, but needed to top the Lady Panthers a third time in the consolation game to reach the PIAA playoffs. The Lady Lancers did that and eventually captured the program’s lone state championship.

This is the second-straight berth in the district title tilt for the Lady Lancers and the third in the program’s 17-year history. Neshannock rolled to a 10-4 decision over Carmichaels last year in the WPIAL Class A championship game.

Lady Rams coach Theresa Waxler recognizes the difficulty of competition in Section 4.

“I do believe our section is one of the stronger sections,” she said. “There’s a lot of good competition in our section. We are very happy to be here; we are a very young team.

“It’s hard to beat the same team three times in a row. I’m hoping that analogy works for us (tomorrow).”

South Side Beaver, which is seeded seventh, is averaging 12.6 runs a game. The Lady Rams have four regulars batting at least .500.

“They hit the ball pretty well,” Kimmel said. “We’ll have to be on our game and we’ll have to pitch carefully.”

Connor McGaffic waves a powerful wand for South Side Beaver, belting a team-high 13 home runs. She’s hitting a team-best .593 (32 for 54) with 46 RBIs.

“She’s a bigtime player,” Kimmel said of McGaffic, who is a righthanded batter. “She hits it well. She has good size and a good swing. In today’s game, that’s lethal.”

McGaffic, a sophomore, poked a home run in the playoffs and added a dinger off Neshannock starting pitcher Madison Shaffer in the regular season. McGaffic plays first base but has pitched at times as well.

“McGaffic is definiely a power hitter,” Waxler said. “She’s focused on hitting line drives; she usually puts the ball in play.

“It’s not like she has hit them just on our home field. She’s got a lot of homers on the road, too.”

McKenna Smith, who is just a freshman, has pitched the whole game in all three of South Side Beaver’s postseason games this year. Waxler said Smith will get the ball tomorrow as well.

“I think she did well against Jefferson-Morgan (in the semifinals),” Waxler said. “She brings some expereince with her, playing for a local travel team.

“These three playoff games have given her some confidence and experience. She has a lot of movement and a few different pitches.”

Smith ranks second on the team in batting at .578 with 26 hits and 14 RBIs.

Smith (7-0) tossed two innings in the regular season against the Lady Lancers according to Waxler and didn’t allow any runs. McGaffic and Sarah Androlia worked the majority of the innings in the circle against Neshannock in the regular season meetings.

“We’ve seen all three, so we won’t get surprised,” Kimmel said.

Said Waxler of having three capable pitchers, “If one of them isn’t on and having a bad day, we can switch them up. They’re all three good athletes. When they’re not pitching, they’re on the field and in our batting order. It’s great to have three of them.”

Neshannock has plated 192 runs in the 15 games it played this year for an average of 12.8 markers a matchup. The Lady Lancers scored a doubleheader forfeit win over section foe Quigley Catholic earlier this month to account for games 16 and 17.

“We know them and we know how to prepare for them,” Waxler said. “They know how to prepare for us. We’ll prepare for them like any other team we’ve seen.

“Their players do put the ball in play. I don’t think they have any power hitters. But most of their lineup hits the ball well and puts it in play.”

Neshannock also has four regulars batting at least .500, led by second baseman Marissa DeMatteo.

“Hitting has been pretty contagious for us,” Kimmel said.

DeMatteo, a junior, is hitting .543 (25 for 46) with a team-best three home runs to go along with 14 RBIs.

Madison Altmyer and Alexandra Fischer are next at .538 — both at 21 for 39. Altmyer, a senior shortstop, has 20 RBIs. Fischer, a senior first baseman, has 18 RBIs.

Kirkwood, a sophomore catcher, sits at .500 (17 for 34). She has a home run and 16 RBIs.

Shaffer has been virtually untouchable in the circle in the playoffs. She tossed a perfect game against Vincentian Academy in the quarterfianls, a 7-0 victory. And she backed that up with a complete-game two-hit shutout in the semifinals — an 11-0 verdict.

Shaffer (12-1) has struck out 15 batters and allowed just one walk in the playoffs.

“She is an excellent pitcher,” Waxler said of Shafer. “You have to give credit where credit is due. She is a very good pitcher.

“Do I think we can hit her? Yes. It all depends on how bad our kids want it. You have to hit the ball to score runs. A great defense won’t win a game without the bats.”

Kimmel said his team is comfortable at this stage of the playoffs and doesn’t feel the pressure despite the team’s success in previous seasons.

“That’s what we play for,” Kimmel said of the championship experience. “We play for championships here at Neshannock. It’s what you want. We’ve been fortunate the last few years, we’ve been in the thick of things.

“I think there was more pressure last year because we dropped down a classification. Most of that team is still intact. I think it was a lot of pressure last year. It was Shaffer’s first year in the spotlight and she handled it well. This year, we’re starting to get some different players in the mix now.”

Both teams will compete in the PIAA Class A playoffs regardless of the outcome. The winner will tangle with the runner-up from District 9, while the loser squares off against the District 10 champion Iroquois.

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