They say it’s tough to beat a good team three times in one season — and Belle Vernon proved it on Wednesday.
Elizabeth Forward had left a trail of destruction in its wake while steamrolling its way to a 17-0 start, with ace pitcher Shelby Telegdy allowing only 11 runs all season going into the WPIAL Class 4A semifinal showdown between the two section rivals. The Warriors had beaten the Leopards in both matchups earlier this season, including a mercy-rule 11-1 victory in their second meeting on April 26.
Belle Vernon flipped the script in a big way, though, bashing three home runs en route to a stunning 10-1 rout at West Mifflin High School. None of Elizabeth Forward’s previous 17 foes had managed to score more than three runs against Telegdy, with only two teams scoring more than one.
“We watched [film on] Hudl a lot the last couple days,” Leopards coach Tom Rodriguez said. “We showed them what [Telegdy] threw last time against them, and they got it right down. … I think, to me, that really helped.”
Senior Alexa Daniels got the scoring started with a two-run homer in the top of the third inning, giving Belle Vernon a much-needed confidence boost against an overpowering pitcher like Telegdy. Meanwhile, junior pitcher Talia Ross kept the Warriors’ loaded lineup at bay after giving up eight runs in her previous outing against Elizabeth Forward.
In the top of the fifth, senior Maren Metikosh blew the game wide open with a grand slam to make it a 6-0 advantage, and junior Ava Zubovic later added a three-run bomb to pad the Leopards’ lead in the eventual 10-1 win.
“We came in with confidence. We wanted revenge,” Metikosh said. “We did a lot of scouting. We watched our film, watched where they were going to pitch us. … We’ve been working at practice, working on the little stuff that we’ve been messing up during the games. We just practiced and executed during the game.”
Rodriguez was only one week removed from winning game No. 300 of his coaching career in a 2-1 quarterfinal win against West Mifflin. Win No. 301 was even sweeter, though, as it sends Rodriguez to the WPIAL championship game for the sixth time in his 21-year career at Belle Vernon. The Leopards are 4-1 in five previous appearances in the WPIAL finals, with their four titles coming in 2007, 2015, 2017 and 2018.
“I didn’t want to say anything about [win No. 300] that day, because the kids, they deserved that,” Rodriguez said. “It wasn’t until afterward that I told anyone.”
It has been an emotional season for Rodriguez. His wife, Linda, died at age 77 on March 28, only a few days after the season started. He got a bit choked up when discussing the subject, knowing his players are dedicating this improbable playoff run to her memory.
And if Belle Vernon can manage to pull off one more win in the WPIAL championship game against Montour next week, this would certainly rank as the most improbable title of Rodriguez’s career — and the one he would surely cherish the most.
“I’m just happy for the girls,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve got some good kids.”
Other Class 4A
• In a rubber match between two section rivals with powerful lineups and top-notch pitchers, No. 2 Montour (15-3) made easy work of No. 3 Chartiers Valley (17-3) in a 10-0 win at West Mifflin to clinch a trip to the WPIAL championship game to take on Belle Vernon. Junior Jana Hess got the scoring started with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning, and senior Mia Arndt finished things off with her own two-run blast in the bottom of the fifth to activate the mercy rule. Senior Kaitlyn Molitoris was spectacular in the circle, allowing only one hit while striking out three over five innings of shutout ball for the Spartans.
• After falling into an early 5-1 hole, No. 2 Hempfield (17-3) dug itself out with seven unanswered runs to complete an 8-5 comeback victory against No. 3 Norwin (15-6) at Gateway High School. Penn recruit Payton Heisler hit a homer and drove in four runs, while Riley Miller earned the win after striking out 13. Madie Kessler, Alyssa McCormick and Bailey Snowberger each homered for the Knights in the defeat. With the win, the Spartans secured their first berth in the WPIAL championship game since winning five titles in a row from 2015-19. This will be Hempfield’s first WPIAL championship appearance under coach Tina Madison, who took over for longtime coach Bob Kalp in 2022.
• Lexie Hames struck out 10 and allowed two runs on three hits, and Kara Pasquale went 2 for 4 with an RBI for No. 1 Seneca Valley (17-1) as the defending champion Raiders earned a return trip to the WPIAL title game with a 7-2 victory over No. 5 Pine-Richland (7-15) at North Allegheny High School.
• Defending champion Armstrong (19-1) punched its ticket to the WPIAL title game for the third year in a row, as the No. 1 River Hawks dismantled No. 12 South Fayette (12-10) over five innings of play for a 12-2 rout at Gateway. The Lions had defeated No. 5 North Hills and No. 4 West Allegheny to reach the semifinals, but ultimately Armstrong just had too much firepower for South Fayette to match.
• Elizabeth Forward wasn’t the only undefeated team to lose its perfect record on Wednesday, as No. 2 Shaler (18-1) suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of No. 3 Trinity (18-2). Hanna Suhoski swatted a pair of home runs in her first two at-bats and the Hillers held off a late rally by the Titans to escape with a 5-4 win at Gateway.
• All nine players in the starting lineup recorded a hit for No. 1 Neshannock (19-0) in a lopsided 15-0 victory against No. 5 Greensburg Central Catholic (13-3) at North Allegheny. The win extended the Lancers’ winning streak to 45 games in a row, and they will try to match Hempfield for what is believed to be the longest winning streak in WPIAL history by defending their WPIAL title against arch rival Laurel next week.
• No. 2 Laurel (16-2) set up an all-Lawrence County championship showdown against section rival and defending champion Neshannock, cruising past No. 6 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (14-4) in an 11-1 win at North Allegheny. The Spartans now hold a combined record of 35-7 over the past two seasons, with a mark of 0-6 against the Lancers and 35-1 against all other opponents.
Hempfield 8, Norwin 5
Seneca Valley 7, Pine-Richland 2
Armstrong 12, South Fayette 2
Trinity 5, Shaler 4
Belle Vernon 10, Elizabeth Forward 1
Montour 10, Chartiers Valley 0
Neshannock 15, Greensburg Central Catholic 0
Laurel 11, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 1