UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – Linda Rush knew moments after her bat made contact that the ball wouldn’t be caught.
So, too, did Canon-McMillan head coach Michele Moeller.
There was no question that Rush had just hit a home run to put the finishing touches on a 4-3, 12-inning victory over Neshaminy at Penn State’s Beard Field.
Every PIAA championship game has a unique twist, and Saturday’s Class AAAA title showdown proved to be no different.
Canon-McMillan assistant coach Steve Moskal had a feeling as the 12th inning kicked off that Rush was due for a hit. The freshman was 1-for-4 in the game, and 11 innings removed from her first-inning single.
So, instead of instructing her to bump from the third base coaches box, otherwise considered the logical move with senior Maddie Engel stationed on second, the plan was to swing away. Engel was there because, after 10 innings, international rules dictate that each inning begin with a runner on second.
Rush’s home run broke open a 2-2 draw, and Big Macs pitcher Alayna Astuto held off a Neshaminy rally, one that could only muster a lone run, in the bottom of the 12th to take home the first state title in school history.
“I don’t think it’s truly going to sink in for a little bit,” Moeller said. “Alayna Astuto, on a senior year, to go out, like that, under that type of pressure, my goodness; I can’t say enough, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl.”
“I knew most of them got on base by getting hit, but that’s just her indoor curveball doing its work, and and sometimes it doesn’t work. Boy, did they stay and battle. I knew they were getting tired, but they never gave up, and every time she walked out, she took a deep, cleansing breath and just cleansed her head, and that comes from experience.”
Astuto took a no-hitter into the 10th inning, and the senior hurler finished with 18 strikeouts paired with just five Neshaminy hits. She was matched by Redskin pitcher Lauren Quense, who also went the distance and finished with 16 strikeouts of her own, allowing just five hits.
And like Quense’s fastball, Neshaminy didn’t go quietly, either. After matching one-run innings from Canon-McMillan in the tenth and eleventh, junior Jen Rakita blasted an inside pitched down the right field line, directly on the path that Rush’s ball had traveled moments earlier. Instead of going out, though, it banged off the outfield wall. That allowed sophomore Sarah Snider Leonhauser, who began the inning on second for the Redskins’, to cross the plate, but no other runs were scored.
Canon-McMillan, the District 7 champions, finished the season 25-1. Neshaminy, the District 1 runner-up, concluded its 2013 run at 23-3.
“I thought it was going to be a quick, short game, but this game went on and on. But, we pulled through, and that’s all that matters,” Rush said. “I wasn’t hitting all game, and I needed to pull through for us. I swung, and it went, and it’s hard to explain more than that.”
Neshaminy head coach Dave Chichilitti spoke fondly of his team and the effort it displayed, singing Quense’s praises. Today, it just wasn’t meant to be.
“You can’t be upset, or feel like you’re losing after getting to this point. Especially with how we battled back at the end,” Chichilitti said. “We had a chance to get that second run in and win the game, and we didn’t get the job done. You tip your hat to their pitcher; their pitcher pitched a great game.
“My pitcher was tough, as well. It was a well-played game all-around.”
State championships often include perfect placement as a part of a winning formula. For Brandywine Heights, it was a vital ingredient.
Jessica Musser’s fourth-inning single fell behind the first base bag, and just inside the foul line, to lift the Bullets to their first PIAA state title, 1-0, over Riverside Saturday after coming up short in four previous appearances.
Senior Megan Olsen hurled a four-hit shutout in her final interscholastic contest, while counterpart and Riverside pitcher Kirsten Wilson held Heights (27-2) to just five.
That said, the Bullets’ extra hit was all the more important as they received gold medals along the first base line on a sunny morning at Penn State’s Beard Field.
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After a trio of scoreless innings, junior Amanda Hess began a two-out bullet rally with a single down the right field line, and advanced when catcher Dayna Jalowy reached on an error. The next batter was Musser, who drove in the winning run.
“I don’t care if I win or lose, but I sure feel better when we win. We came in with the attitude that David and Goliath; we talked about the Miracle on Ice this morning,” Brandywine Heights head coach Don Roach said while fighting back tears.
“We knew that we were underdogs, and we knew that this game was going to be a scrape, scratch, and craw game, and that’s exactly what it was.”
Roach added that the victory came not just for his current players, but the ones that have now graduated without a state title. Regardless of whether or not they owned a gold medal, Roach said that the group helped lay the foundation that helped lead to Saturday’s win.
Also key was his team’s ability to watch Wilson’s rising pitch sail past, especially in the fourth inning. Instead of turning her strength into a pop-out or strikeout, they instead waited for a better pitch, and took advantage of it.
“I just focused on hitting my spots, working on all my pitches, and following the signs my coach gave me. I have full confidence in him,” Olsen explained. “We had a game plan for their pitcher, and we just took it one pitch at a time and played our game.
“It feels amazing. It’s a feeling like no other, and something I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”
Riverside head coach Pam McCarty spoke in a quiet tone after the game, her team’s accomplishments in a 22-1 season not lost on her.
Four state runner-up finishes during her tenure left a strong desire for gold, but today Riverside’s bats were not up to the task. The Panthers twice left runners stranded at third, the most prevalent in the top of the fourth, when Natalie Pritts was left standing after reaching the bag with just one out.
“Our batting just wasn’t up to par today, but that girl pitched well. We swung underneath it, and popped it up, and you have to swing level and get base hits to win these ballgames.”
In the nightcap, Valley View toppled Fort LeBoeuf, 5-0, for its first Class AAA title. The school’s most recent state title came in 2000, when it played in Class AA. Valley View was last year’s runner-up.
The Cougars scored four runs in the first inning without the benefit of a hit and added another run in the sixth. Winning pitcher Gina Chieffallow struck out ten batters.
After winning the PIAA AA title a season ago, Neshannock seemed a shoe-in to take home Class A gold Saturday afternoon. And while stranger things have happened, the Lancers walked out of Beard Field much earlier than expected.
Led by a three-hit shutout from ace Cassidy Pinchorski, Williams Valley stunned the Lancers 13-0 in a six-inning mercy rule ending affair. It prevented a seven-game state playoff winning streak for Neshannock (21-2) to turn into eight, while bumping the District 11 champions to a final mark of 23-4.
The Vikings broke open a scoreless draw with a three-run fourth inning before tacking on four more in the fifth, and six in the sixth.
Filed Under: Softball