As the No. 12 seed in Class 5A, South Fayette went into its matchup against No. 5 North Hills (14-4) on Monday as a sizable underdog in the eyes of most.

All it took was one loud crack of Maddie Cavenaugh’s bat to change that in an instant.

South Fayette’s Maddie Cavenaugh bats against North Hills during the first round of WPIAL Class 5A playoffs on Monday, May 15, 2023, at Montour High School. Cavenaugh belted a leadoff home run to help the Lions win, 6-5. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The Lions sophomore shortstop swatted a solo home run on the very first pitch of the game, setting the tone for the biggest upset of the evening on the opening night of the WPIAL softball playoffs. Freshman third baseman Liv Bonacci added a two-run home run in the top of the fourth, then South Fayette (11-9) held off a late Indians rally to escape with a 6-5 win at Montour High School.

“We knew North Hills was going to be a huge test for us. We were ready in the field and had a game plan ready for them,” Lions coach Olet Stasko said. “Our team usually does well if we come out kind of hot. The spark is usually there, and after that, they usually start stringing hits together and having a bit of fun.”

Freshman Emma Earley pitched a complete game in the win for South Fayette, which now advances to take on a familiar foe in the quarterfinal round on Wednesday against No. 4 West Allegheny (19-1). The section rivals have squared off twice already this season, with the Indians prevailing both times. But after sitting under .500 late in the regular season, the Lions kick-started their current three-game winning streak with an impressive 7-3 win against Montour on May 10, giving them all the confidence and momentum they needed heading into the postseason.

“I thought we had a chance going in,” Stasko said. “I think this entire year, we’ve been battling back-and-forth. We had a couple games where we missed a step or two, but I think the girls are ready to do it. … We did have a win over Montour, which kind of proved we are able to take on anyone, as long as we put our minds to it.”

South Fayette’s Emma Earley pitches against North Hills during the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs on Monday, May 15, 2023, at Montour High School. The freshman pitched a complete game as the Lions went on to win, 6-5. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Now, having knocked off a solid North Hills team only two years removed from winning a WPIAL title, South Fayette is playing with the mindset that it can compete with anybody in Class 5A — even a juggernaut like West Allegheny.

“I think we’ve always been the underdogs the entire season, but I think we’re proving we belong here a little more each and every game,” Stasko said. “The girls have done a great job of always having each other’s backs. I think they’re going to go toe-to-toe with them. It’s anyone’s ballgame.”

Other Class 5A

• With No. 3 Trinity in danger of a first-round upset while trailing, 1-0, against No. 14 Penn-Trafford (6-12), senior Mirranda Rinehart tied the score with a solo home run in the fourth inning to get the Hillers on the board. Sophomore Hanna Suhoski and senior Addison Agnew then tacked on a pair of doubles as part of a three-run inning for Trinity (16-2), which held on to beat the Warriors, 3-2.

• Unbeaten Shaler withstood a spirited effort by No. 15 Bethel Park (7-11), emerging with a 5-3 win to reach the WPIAL quarterfinals for the second year in a row. Freshman catcher Alyssa Schaffold homered for the No. 2 Titans (17-0), who will face another stiff challenge against an explosive Franklin Regional lineup on Wednesday.

• Kayla Williams earned the win and struck out 11, Josie Straigis homered and Hayden Kraynick tallied a pair of doubles for No. 6 Latrobe (15-3), propeling the Wildcats to a WPIAL quarterfinal matchup against No. 3 Trinity after a 12-1 win against No. 11 Western Beaver (8-8).

Class 4A

• Cassie Vidic twirled a gem for No. 8 Hampton (13-5) in a 6-1 first-round win against No. 9 Greensburg Salem (10-8), allowing one run on three hits while striking out 14 to help the Talbots advance to the quarterfinal round.

• Two-time defending champion Beaver (7-10) suffered a disappointing first-round exit at the hands of No. 7 Indiana, as the Little Indians (16-4) rolled to a 9-0 victory against the No. 10 Bobcats.

Three stars

*** — Zoe Krizan, Thomas Jefferson. With her team trailing by three runs entering the bottom of the seventh, the Jaguars cut the deficit to two before Krizan stepped to the plate and smashed a walk-off grand slam to give No. 8 Thomas Jefferson an 8-6 win against No. 9 Plum in Class 5A.

** — Madison Nguyen, Franklin Regional. One of the most prolific sluggers in the area over the past three seasons, Nguyen delivered one of the biggest games of her career to power the No. 7 Panthers to a 10-2 win against No. 10 Moon. Nguyen went 3 for 4 with a pair of home runs and six RBIs to send Franklin Regional to the Class 5A quarterfinals.

* — Elly Vicari-Baker and Addy Vicari-Baker, West Allegheny. The No. 4 Indians’ battery mates each had a game to remember in an 18-3 rout against No. 13 Fox Chapel in Class 5A. A junior pitcher, Elly went 2 for 3 with a double, a home run and five RBIs, and she earned the win after allowing three runs on two hits in four innings of work. Ally, her twin sister and catcher, went 4 for 4 with a double, a home run and three RBIs.

Class 5A scores

Armstrong 10, Upper St. Clair 0

Franklin Regional 10, Moon 2

Latrobe 12, Western Beaver 1

Shaler 5, Bethel Park 3

South Fayette 6, North Hills 5

Thomas Jefferson 8, Plum 6

Trinity 3, Penn-Trafford 2

West Allegheny 18, Fox Chapel 3

Class 4A scores

Hampton 6, Greensburg Salem 1

Indiana 9, Beaver 0

Knoch 7, Uniontown 6

West Mifflin 10, McKeesport 0

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at