For much of Thursday’s WPIAL Class 3A championship game, Avonworth and Southmoreland appeared to be two evenly matched foes, but there was still one obvious difference in the game.
The Antelopes have Alivia Lantzy on their team, and the Scotties don’t.
Avonworth fell behind, 1-0, after Southmoreland (16-3) struck first in the bottom of the third, then rallied to take a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish as Lantzy mowed the Scotties down the rest of the way. One of the top pitchers in the WPIAL, Lantzy struck out 14 batters in a masterful complete-game effort, also finishing 1 for 2 with two walks and an RBI to lead the Lopes (21-1) to a 5-1 win at Lilley Field in California, Pa., for its second consecutive WPIAL title. The junior hurler also pitched a complete game while allowing only one run in an 8-1 win against Deer Lakes in last year’s title game.
“It’s the same feeling [as last year],” Lantzy said. “No. 1 through No. 9, our hitters, I think anyone can hit the ball. I don’t think there is one bad hitter in our lineup.”
Avonworth struggled to muster much offense through the first five innings, but the bottom of the order came up huge for the Lopes in the bottom of the sixth. Freshman Mara Stetser got things started with a triple into the gap, then sophomore Sydney Savatt brought her home with a sacrifice fly to make it a 3-1 game. Lantzy then lined an RBI single before a run came home to score on a throwing error, giving Avonworth a four-run advantage heading into the final inning.
Junior cleanup hitter Leah Kuban went 2 for 2 with a pair of walks for the Lopes, while sophomore Emma Obersteiner went 2 for 3 with a pair of runs scored.
“I’ve got to tell you — I’ve been waiting for Mara to break out like this, and she sure did pick a good day to show that she’s not just a freshman and she belongs in our lineup,” Avonworth coach Jenna Muncie said. “I’m so happy for her.”
Southmoreland junior pitcher Maddie Brown put up a valiant effort, hanging neck-and-neck with Lantzy until the Lopes finally broke through with three runs in the bottom of the sixth to pad its lead. Brown allowed three earned runs on nine hits over six innings of work for the Scotties.
“Maddie never gives up. She has fight in that dog, that’s for sure,” Southmoreland coach Todd Bunner said. “She gave us what she had. She really took care of their big hitters, mainly. Some of their bottom of the lineup hitters produced, and sometimes that happens.”
After Lantzy breezed through the first two-plus innings with a string of six consecutive strikeouts, the Scotties drew first blood on a two-out RBI single by sophomore Makayla Etling in the top of the third. Lantzy then escaped a bases-loaded jam by inducing a harmless groundout back to the rubber for the final out of the inning.
“[Lantzy] really hits her spots well,” Bunner said. “Once she gets a strike or two on you, she’s throwing outside, she’s throwing rise balls, and she makes you chase. She’s very good at placing that ball. She does an excellent job on the mound.”
Avonworth also loaded the bases in the bottom of the third, bringing home the tying run on a fielder’s choice hit by Rylee Gray before stranding a trio of runners. Southmoreland right fielder Beatrix Pawlikowski made a highlight-reel diving catch on a line drive by Cassie Heinauer to save at least two runs and end the inning.
The Lopes broke open the tie game when Obersteiner singled and scored on a throwing error in the bottom of the fourth, and the score remained 2-1 until Avonworth tallied three more insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. That proved to be much more cushion than Lantzy would need, as she struck out Brynn Charnesky to end the game and set off another celebration in the infield for the Lopes.
“[Lantzy] just gives me such a feeling of confidence and calmness,” Muncie said. “Now that we’ve [won the WPIAL], I guess we turn the page and see if we can repeat in states.”
Now, the defending PIAA champions will embark on another quest to defend their state title, and they certainly appear to be up to the task.
“We have mostly everyone back [from last year],” Lantzy said. “That experience from it — I think we know what it takes to win [states] again. I think it will be fun.”