After a devastating extra-innings loss to Belle Vernon on a controversial call at the plate in the WPIAL championship game, Montour’s players didn’t spend much time sulking or feeling sorry for themselves.
Instead, the Spartans got back to work and geared up for a state playoff run — a run that will now culminate at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the PIAA Class 4A championship game.
Facing a dominant pitcher in Elizabeth Forward’s Shelby Telegdy on an unusually chilly Monday in mid-June at Gateway High School, Montour coach Ken Kutchman knew runs would likely be at a premium for his ballclub. Still, the Spartans (18-4) did plenty of scoring for senior pitcher Kaitlyn Molitoris to handle the rest, as Molitoris allowed one run on three hits with five strikeouts to outduel Telegdy and lead Montour to a 4-1 PIAA semifinal win.
“We never lost focus,” Kutchman said while fighting back tears of joy after the game. “We came back and did what we had to do. Those are three good teams we ran through.”
The lights-out performance from Molitoris followed up her dazzling complete-game shutout with 14 strikeouts in a 5-0 win against Archbishop Wood in the PIAA quarterfinals. Still, facing a pitcher of Telegdy’s caliber, the Spartans had to make sure they took advantage of every opportunity to put runs on the board — and that’s exactly what they did in becoming only the second team all season to score more than three runs against the Warriors (20-2).
“We love to jump out early and take advantage of things,” Kutchman said. “You always like to think, if you jump on them early, the pressure is on them.”
Senior center fielder Mia Arndt was stellar as usual for Montour, finishing 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, an RBI and a run scored. A five-tool spark plug at the top of the order, Arndt singled and scored in the top of the first to give the Spartans an early 1-0 lead they would never relinquish. She also provided an extra insurance run with her RBI double in the top of the sixth.
Along with Arndt and Molitoris, left fielder Avrie Polo is the third member of Montour’s talented trio of seniors, and she made sure to leave her own imprint on the game. With runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Polo laid out to make a terrific diving catch on a sharp liner to preserve the 4-1 lead.
Molitoris then shut Elizabeth Forward down in the bottom of the seventh, and soon the Spartans were celebrating a trip to the state finals and a chance to erase those painful memories of that gut-wrenching WPIAL championship defeat.
“I just know our defense behind me is awesome,” Molitoris said. “I think that [loss to Belle Vernon] just pushed us harder to work really hard at states, because we wanted to make it to this championship, too.”
• A titanic battle featuring two of the most explosive offenses in the area between Armstrong and Shaler appeared to be an unlikely pitcher’s duel instead — at least for the first seven innings. Then, with the score tied, 2-2, heading into extras, both high-powered lineups erupted for a combined five home runs in the eighth inning as the Titans went on to win, 8-5.
“I didn’t like what happened in the last half-inning, but you know what? [Armstrong] is a good team,” Shaler coach Tom Sorce said. “I didn’t know if eight runs were going to be enough, to be honest with you.”
After Shaler (22-1) scored six runs in the top of the eighth thanks to a three-run bomb by sophomore Ella Nash and a two-run shot by senior Bethany Rodman, the River Hawks (21-3) responded with a trio of solo home runs in the bottom half of the inning by Emma Smerick, Bella Atherton and Jessie Pugh. But Titans freshman Bria Bosiljevac held off the rally, finishing with 13 strikeouts in a complete-game win at Gateway.
• Sophomore star Riley Miller finally allowed her first run of the PIAA tournament for Hempfield (21-3), but the Spartans generated more than enough offense to earn a trip to the state finals with a 6-1 win against District 3 champion Cumberland Valley (19-6) at Saint Francis University. Emily Griffith and Sarah Podkul both homered for Hempfield, while freshman Lauren Howard went 3 for 4 with a double, a triple and two RBIs and Miller fanned eight without walking a batter in a complete-game win.
• In a battle of unbeatens at Heindl Field in DuBois, defending state champion Neshannock (22-1) saw its WPIAL-record 48-game win streak come to an end at the hands of District 5 champion Everett (25-0) in a 9-6 defeat. Freshman Jaidon Nogay drove in a pair, and senior Hunter Newman homered to tie the score in the fifth, but Everett broke things open with three runs in the sixth to end the Lancers’ bid for back-to-back perfect seasons.
• Down to its last out, Union stormed back from an 8-5 deficit against District 6 champion Claysburg-Kimmel (22-4) with five runs in the top of the seventh inning, pulling out a dramatic 10-8 win to reach the PIAA championship game for the first time in program history. Sophomore Mia Preuhs went 3 for 4 with an RBI and struck out seven to earn the win for the Scotties (20-3), who will now attempt to sweep both WPIAL and PIAA titles in girls basketball and softball less than three months apart.
PIAA semifinal scores
Hempfield 6, Cumberland Valley 1
Shaler 8, Armstrong 5
Montour 4, Elizabeth Forward 1
Everett 9, Neshannock 6
Union 10, Claysburg-Kimmel 8