After a pair of drama-filled, high-scoring slugfests in the first two softball championship games of Wednesday’s slate, two star pitchers stole the spotlight in the Class 6A finals between No. 1 Seneca Valley and No. 2 Hempfield.

Overshadowed by Seneca Valley sophomore Lexie Hames and the headlines generated by her eye-popping numbers going into the game, Spartans sophomore Riley Miller turned in a performance for the ages on Wednesday night. Miller hurled an eight-inning complete game gem, allowing only one run on four hits while striking out 11 in a nail-biting 2-1 win against the defending champions. Hames finished with nine strikeouts while allowing two runs on three hits in eight innings of work for Seneca Valley (17-2).

“It’s super exciting. We knew we would get them when it mattered,” said Miller, referencing the pair of meetings the teams split during the regular season. “We’re going to celebrate, definitely, but we have to focus back up and take states, too.”

Hempfield’s Riley Miller pitched a complete game against Seneca Valley in the 6A WPIAL championship on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, at PennWest California’s Lilley Field. Hempfield won, 2-1, in eight innings. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

With the score tied, 1-1, in the top of the eighth inning, Mia Bandieramonte played the hero for Hempfield (18-3). The senior turned on a Hames fastball and launched a towering solo home run over the left-field fence, giving the Spartans a 2-1 lead before Miller silenced the heart of the Raiders’ order in the bottom of the eighth to close out the win.

“It was how it was meant to be,” Hempfield coach Tina Madison said. “[Hames] is really good. I’ll be watching her on TV in two years, I can promise you that.”

A power hitter unlike anyone the WPIAL has seen in recent years, Hames was intentionally walked all four times she stepped to the plate. She finished her spectacular sophomore season with five home runs in only 28 at-bats while drawing 35 walks in 65 plate appearances, and she also racked up 269 strikeouts in 122 innings pitched.

“She’s got a big summer ahead of her,” Seneca coach Marlesse Hames said. “She’s still leading the state in strikeouts. That [loss] is not going to define her as a pitcher.”

Seneca Valley’s Lexie Hames struck out nine batters over eight innings while allowing two runs on three hits in the WPIAL Class 6A championship on Wednesday at PennWest California’s Lilley Field. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The game started with some small ball by the Spartans, who scored the opening run in the top of the first inning after an infield single by freshman Lauren Howard. A sacrifice bunt moved Howard to second base, and the speedster then came home to score after an error on a routine ground ball.

For a while, it seemed as though the one-run cushion would be all Miller needed for Hempfield to bring home the title, as both pitchers cruised through the middle innings while mowing down the opposing lineups. Then, in the bottom of the sixth inning, sophomore Bella Gross came up huge for Seneca with a game-tying RBI single down the third-base line, bringing Anna Kalkowski home to score after an intentional walk to Hames moved Kalkowski to second base.

“I actually almost walked both of [Hames and Gross] in the sixth, and I’m kicking my butt that I didn’t,” Madison said.

The Raiders threatened to walk it off in the bottom of the seventh after Kylie Staudt doubled and advanced to third on a groundout, but Miller struck out pinch-hitter Addie Winkle to send the game to extras. That set the stage for Bandieramonte’s majestic go-ahead home run, and the rest was history.

“I definitely knew it was gone right away,” Bandieramonte said. “I was visualizing it the whole day. I really wanted to help my teammates win the game. They really deserved the win, and I really just wanted to help.”

With the win, the Spartans are now back on top of the Class 6A throne, winning their first WPIAL title since 2019 and eighth overall. They are now tied with Chartiers-Houston for the third-most titles in WPIAL history, with this being their first championship won under Madison, a 2001 Hempfield grad and one of the most decorated players in program history. The previous seven came under legendary skipper Bob Kalp, who retired after the 2021 season.

Hempfield infielders high-five after Riley Miller struck out a Seneca Valley batter in the WPIAL Class 6A championship Wednesday at PennWest California’s Lilley Field. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Now, Madison and her players will turn their attention to the state playoffs, which only the district champion qualifies for in Class 6A. The Spartans won three consecutive PIAA championships from 2016-18, and Madison knows the job isn’t finished until they raise another state championship banner.

Still, she’s going to take some time first — even if only for one night — to enjoy a well-deserved celebration after guiding her team to victory in an unforgettable championship clash.

“We’re excited to go to states,” Madison said. “I haven’t really even talked about it or thought about it, because this game meant everything.”

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