Tuesday’s matchup between No. 2 Bentworth and No. 3 Laurel had all the makings of a classic pitchers’ duel between Sydney Gonglik and Autumn Boyd, and with a berth in the WPIAL Class 2A championship game at stake, this semifinal showdown at North Allegheny more than lived up to the hype.

Up until the very end, it appeared Boyd would be the hero and the veteran Spartans would send the young, hungry Bearcats back to the consolation bracket while earning a fifth WPIAL championship appearance in the past six seasons, as the stellar senior shut Bentworth out through the first 6⅔ innings while matching the freshman phenom Gonglik’s superb skill every step of the way. Boyd’s towering double off the left-field fence and subsequent run scored on a wild pitch stood as the only tally of the game on either side — until a quiet, unassuming sophomore named Sofia Gaussa flipped the script.

With runners on first and third and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Gaussa turned on a fastball from Boyd and belted a line drive over the left fielder’s head. Gonglik then showed off her impressive wheels while flying all the way around from first to score the game-winning run, clinching a 2-1 win for the Bearcats and their first trip to the WPIAL championship game in school history in thrilling walk-off fashion.

“I did see the [left fielder] miss it, and I knew I wasn’t stopping,” Gonglik said. “The catcher was so far away from the plate, I just knew [it was over]. It was just great.”

A flame-throwing pitching sensation who also led the WPIAL in batting average while belting eight home runs during the regular season, Gonglik delivered another signature performance with 14 strikeouts while allowing one run on four hits and two walks. She also went 1 for 2 with a pair of walks at the plate, and her reputation as a feared slugger prompted Laurel coach Frank Duddy to intentionally walk her with two outs and a runner on third in the bottom of the seventh.

The rest, of course, is history.

“I told [Gonglik], ‘You’re going to have to carry us tonight,’ and she did,” said Bentworth coach Jack Cramer. “Good pitching beats good hitting. … [A score of] 1-0 could have won that game, easily.”

After Boyd scored to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth, Laurel center fielder Ivy Pancher made a spectacular play to save a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning, hauling in a highlight-reel snowcone catch on a sharp line drive to the gap in right-center by Nora Lindley with runners on first and second. The Spartans had a couple chances to add on to their lead in the later innings, but Gonglik did a great job of limiting damage and recording some much-needed strikeouts with runners in scoring position.

“[Laurel] played well enough to win, but we lucked out at the end,” Cramer said. “We dug ourselves our own hole, but like I told them out there, ‘Never give up. You’re too good.’ … That’s a good team we just beat. But we were the No. 2 seed for a reason. Somebody knew what was going on.”

Laurel senior Autumn Boyd struck out 13 while allowing two runs on four hits and two walks in a 2-1 defeat against Bentworth in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at North Allegheny. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Even in defeat, Boyd authored an outing to remember for the Spartans, striking out 13 while allowing two runs on four hits and two walks in an epic battle against Gonglik. Laurel will now attempt to qualify for the PIAA tournament with a win in the third-place game after narrowly missing out on a second consecutive trip to the WPIAL final.

“We talked about this in December, the coaches,” Cramer said. “We figured we would be in this game against that team, and then it’s just a toss-up.”

Having vanquished the formidable Spartans, the Bearcats’ biggest test of all lies ahead in the form of two-time defending WPIAL champion Neshannock, winner of 69 of its past 70 games. Bentworth will surely be a sizable underdog in the eyes of many against the Lancers, but don’t count the Bearcats out just yet.

Riding a 16-game winning streak, Bentworth’s confidence will be sky-high going into its first championship game — and why not? After all, the Bearcats haven’t lost to a WPIAL opponent this year, and although Neshannock has the deeper lineup from top to bottom, Bentworth has the great equalizer in Gonglik.

“I know what I have to do. I have to hit my spots and I have to trust my fielders,” Gonglik said. “We fought this game, and if this game was hard, the next game definitely will be.”

Bentworth freshman Sydney Gonglik struck out 14 while allowing one run on four hits and two walks in a 2-1 win against Laurel in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at North Allegheny. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Other Class 2A semifinal

• Fueled by a complete-game masterpiece by Providence recruit Addy Frye, No. 1 Neshannock punched its third consecutive ticket to the WPIAL championship game with a 5-0 win against No. 5 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Frye fired a one-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts to only one walk, Miley Anderson went 2 for 4 with a homer and two RBIs and Jaidon Nogay went 2 for 3 with a double and a triple to help the Lancers keep their perfect record intact. Attempting to win its third consecutive WPIAL title, Neshannock holds a record of 69-1 in its past 70 games, and the Lancers have allowed only nine runs all season while posting 15 shutouts in 21 games.

Class 3A semifinals

• Sophomore standout Sydney Sekely outdueled Ligonier Valley‘s record-setting senior Cheyenne Piper, hurling a perfect game with nine strikeouts for No. 3 South Park in a 3-0 win against the No. 2 Rams at Penn-Trafford. Piper entered the game with a streak of 22⅓ consecutive innings without allowing a hit, having fired three consecutive no-hitters while notching a perfect game in a first-round win against Keystone Oaks, but her magic finally ran out against the Eagles. Kaitlyn Polk homered twice off Piper to power South Park to victory, while Sekely etched her own name into the record books with a masterful performance for the Eagles, who are one win away from their first WPIAL title in 21 years.

• Two-time defending champion and No. 1 Avonworth had its hopes of a three-peat dashed in a 5-3 upset loss against No. 4 Mohawk at Seneca Valley, as the Warriors scored three runs in the top of the sixth off Antelopes ace Alivia Lantzy to break open a tie game before holding off Avonworth’s attempted rally. Aricka Young notched a trio of hits and Gigi Cowher drove in a pair for Mohawk, which is attempting to win its first WPIAL title.


Class 3A semifinals

Mohawk 5, Avonworth 3

South Park 3, Ligonier Valley 0

Class 2A semifinals

Bentworth 2, Laurel 1

Neshannock 5, OLSH 0

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.