Montour softball coach Ken Kutchman remembers feeling helpless at the end of his team’s 8-7 loss to Belle Vernon in the WPIAL championship game.

On that now-infamous play at the plate, Spartans junior Jana Hess appeared to slide safely under a tag applied by Leopards first baseman Gracie Sokol, which would have tied the score with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Instead, the umpire called Hess out, ending the game and awarding the championship to Belle Vernon.

Kutchman pleaded his case with the umpire as he walked off the field — not so much fuming or even arguing, just informing him he had flat-out missed the call. “She was under it, man,” Kutchman told the umpire, knowing deep down there was nothing more he could do to get the call reversed.

“He wasn’t going to change it,” Kutchman said. “Maybe next year when some of these girls get to college, they might have that opportunity [for replay review], but not for us. The girls responded well afterward. Obviously, they were disappointed. We gave them a day off, and they came back and have been pretty focused.”

Belle Vernon’s Gracie Sokol (20) tags out Montour’s Jana Hess sliding into home to end the game in the WPIAL Class 4A championship on May 31, 2023, at California’s Lilley Field. Belle Vernon won, 8-7, although video appeared to show Hess sliding safely under the tag. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

But while the outcome of that game was set in stone as soon as the dust cloud at home plate had settled, there was one thing Kutchman could do still to salvage his team’s season. With the PIAA tournament looming on the horizon, Kutchman and his coaching staff would have to act fast to pick their players up off the floor and get them to refocus on the ultimate prize.

After all, the blueprint for rebounding from a devastating defeat in the WPIAL championship game to win a state championship was right there in front of them. Montour’s baseball team did exactly that last spring, coming back from a 5-4 loss to West Mifflin in 12 innings in the WPIAL finals to beat Holy Ghost Prep, 10-9, in epic comeback fashion in the state title game.

“Hopefully we take after what our baseball team did last year,” Kutchman said. “We know the baseball staff well, and we talked to them about it.”

Whatever Kutchman did to turn things around seems to have worked, although he defers all the credit to senior standouts Mia Arndt, Kaitlyn Molitoris and Avrie Polo. The trio have provided their fair share of heroics already this season, and they have only turned it up a notch in the PIAA playoffs. Molitoris is coming off perhaps the finest outing of her career on Thursday in a 5-0 win against District 12 third-place finisher Archbishop Wood, striking out 14 while twirling a complete-game shutout.

“It goes back to those three seniors. They’re our rocks,” Kutchman said. “They’re committed, they’re intense. They know when to push and when to ease off a little bit. The credit goes to them.”

Montour’s Kaitlyn Molitoris is coming off a dominant performance in the PIAA quarterfinals, pitching a complete-game shutout with 14 strikeouts in a 5-0 win against Archbishop Wood. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The Spartans were eager for a chance at payback against Belle Vernon in the state semifinals, but Elizabeth Forward dashed those hopes with a dramatic 4-3 comeback victory against the Leopards in the quarterfinal round. That finally set up a showdown at 4 p.m. Monday at Gateway High School between the top two seeds in the WPIAL Class 4A tournament, this time for the right to go to the state finals.

“I’m not going to worry about them getting revenge [on Belle Vernon],” Warriors coach Harry Rutherford said. “We’ve seen them and their games. We’ve got them scouted. I’m sure they have us scouted well. It should be an interesting game with them, too. They’ve got a great pitcher. I think we can match them pitch for pitch, and we’ll see how their bats measure up to ours.”

Now, Molitoris and Montour (17-4) will face arguably their toughest task of the season against Elizabeth Forward and ace pitcher Shelby Telegdy, who also happens to be one of the top power hitters in the area. Telegdy has given up only 26 runs in 21 games this season, with 10 of those coming in a WPIAL semifinal loss against Belle Vernon. Telegdy has not allowed more than three runs in any other contest this season.

The Warriors (20-1) also feature one of the top freshmen in the district in shortstop Julia Resnik, who finished fifth in the WPIAL with a batting average of .643 during the regular season. Sophomore catcher Alivia Grimm is also a big-time player coming off an all-section selection as a freshman, and she came through in the clutch with a go-ahead two-run double in the seventh inning of Elizabeth Forward’s 4-3 win over Belle Vernon in their PIAA quarterfinal rematch on Thursday.

“[Resnik is] just having a great season,” Rutherford said. “She has really sparked this team.”

Both teams have high-powered lineups and lights-out pitchers capable of single-handedly winning a game, so expect another unforgettable finish when these teams collide for the first time all season. Rutherford is surely counting on it.

“I expect it to be a one-run game, to be honest,” Rutherford said. “We’ll see who comes out on top.”

Elizabeth Forward’s Shelby Telegdy celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run against Belle Vernon, June 8, 2023, at Hempfield High School. Elizabeth Forward won, 4-3, to reach the PIAA Class 4A semifinals. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 6A

For three consecutive years from 2016-18, Hempfield was a mainstay in the PIAA championship game, winning three state titles in a row in the largest classification under legendary coach Bob Kalp.

Now, Kalp is retired, and the Spartans are coached by one of his top former players, Tina Madison. Now in her second year at the helm, Madison has her alma mater one win away from making a return trip to the state finals after back-to-back shutouts in the first two rounds of the PIAA tournament.

Hempfield sophomore Riley Miller has posted back-to-back shutouts in her first two state playoff games, helping the Spartans reach the PIAA Class 6A semifinals. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Of course, Madison owes plenty of gratitude for those shutout wins to her star pupil, sophomore pitcher Riley Miller. After a broken leg ended her breakout freshman campaign in last year’s WPIAL quarterfinals, Miller has enjoyed a stellar bounce-back season while raising her game considerably during the postseason. She out-dueled Seneca Valley superstar Lexie Hames in a 2-1 extra-innings win in the WPIAL championship game, and she has yet to allow a run in two state playoff games.

Awaiting Hempfield (20-3) in Monday’s PIAA semifinals at 4 p.m. Monday at Saint Francis University is Cumberland Valley (19-5). The District 3 champions are surely capable of bringing the lumber after posting a 14-5 win against District 1 runner-up Haverford in the quarterfinal round. Another postseason shutout from Miller might be too much to ask against Cumberland Valley, so the Spartans will likely need to provide more run support than they generated for Miller on Thursday in order to make it to the state title game.

Class 5A

Just like in Class 4A, the WPIAL is guaranteed to be represented in the PIAA Class 5A championship game. After a pair of lopsided wins in the first two rounds, WPIAL runner-up Armstrong is set to take on third-place finisher Shaler at 2 p.m. Monday at Gateway in a PIAA semifinal matchup between two of the most explosive offenses in the state.

Junior slugger Jessie Pugh is one of several players with eye-popping power for Armstrong, as proven by her three-run bomb in the WPIAL championship game against Trinity. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The River Hawks (21-2) came up short in their bid to defend their WPIAL title against Trinity, but they are now one win away from heading to back-to-back state finals after putting up 15 runs in each of their first two PIAA playoff games. They needed only three innings to dispatch District 1 runner-up West Chester Rustin, 15-0, in Thursday’s PIAA quarterfinals.

The Titans (21-1) went undefeated through the regular season before losing to Trinity, 5-4, in the WPIAL semifinals. They avenged that lone defeat with a 5-1 win on Thursday in the PIAA quarterfinals, using a trio of home runs to generate all the offense they would need. Both teams love the long ball and have plenty of players with game-changing power, so expect a high-scoring affair with several momentum swings along the way.

Class 2A

There isn’t much left to say about Neshannock’s pursuit of perfection that hasn’t already been said. The Lancers stretched their WPIAL-record winning streak to 48 consecutive games with a nail-biting 2-1 win against District 10 champion Sharpsville in the PIAA quarterfinals — only their second time winning by one run during that 48-game streak.

Neshannock’s Gabby Quinn celebrates after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning of the WPIAL Class 2A championship against Laurel on June 1, 2023, at California’s Lilley Field. Neshannock won, 12-2. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Things won’t get much easier for Neshannock against unbeaten District 5 champion Everett (24-0) at 2 p.m. Monday at Heindl Field in DuBois, Pa. Everett is looking like a certified powerhouse through two state playoff games so far, first knocking off WPIAL runner-up Laurel, 15-12, before dominating District 9 champion Cranberry, 12-2, in the PIAA quarterfinals.

The rare battle of unbeatens will allow the Lancers to truly put their greatness to the test, as they are now two wins away from becoming the only team in WPIAL history to complete back-to-back perfect seasons. Defeating a team of Everett’s caliber in order to do so would only make the feat that much more remarkable.

Class 1A

Union has a true star on its hands in sophomore Mia Preuhs, and that became abundantly clear in the Scotties’ 5-2 win against West Branch in the PIAA quarterfinals on Thursday.

Union’s Mia Preuhs has pitched back-to-back complete games to win WPIAL titles as a freshman and sophomore, and she now has the Scotties one win away from a trip to the PIAA Class 1A title game. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Preuhs struck out 17 batters in a complete-game win, and she struck out the side on nine pitches to notch an immaculate inning in the fourth. That win sets up a matchup against District 6 champion Claysburg-Kimmel (22-3) at 2 p.m. Monday at Norwin High School, with a win sending Union to the PIAA championship game in softball only a couple of months after Preuhs and a few of her teammates won WPIAL and PIAA championships in basketball.

The Scotties have already won back-to-back WPIAL titles with Preuhs leading the way, but this would be their first trip to the state title game if they can pull off the win. Claysburg-Kimmel will attempt to eliminate its third consecutive WPIAL opponent after taking out Frazier and Chartiers-Houston to reach the PIAA semifinals.

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