What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

All you have to do is make the trip out to PennWest California’s Lilley Field at noon Thursday to find out.

Representing the unstoppable force in this case are the mighty Neshannock Lancers, the two-time defending WPIAL Class 2A champions and winners of 69 of their past 70 games — including 59 in a row against WPIAL opponents. The immovable object, of course, is Bentworth pitcher Sydney Gonglik — a bona fide freshman phenom who has rapidly ascended into the upper echelon of the top two-way players in the state.

There’s only one thing left to do now — get your popcorn ready.

With Gonglik at the forefront, the No. 2 Bearcats have now advanced to where no team in school history has gone before after a dramatic 2-1 walk-off victory against No. 3 Laurel in the WPIAL semifinals. Bentworth has yet to lose a game to a WPIAL opponent this season, having rattled off 15 wins in a row since returning home from a season-opening trip to the Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., with a record of 2-2.

Now, their greatest challenge awaits in the form of the undefeated No. 1 seed, with Neshannock seeking to win a WPIAL title without losing a game for the third consecutive season. The Lancers’ only loss since the start of the 2022 season was a 9-6 defeat in a battle of unbeatens in last year’s PIAA semifinals against District 5 champion Everett, which then went on to win the PIAA Class 2A title. Neshannock went 26-0 and won WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A titles in 2022, becoming only the sixth undefeated state champion from the WPIAL — and many believe the Lancers have what it takes to do it again this year.

“It’s exciting,” said Neshannock coach Jackie Lash. “We’ve been working hard and practicing for what feels like an eternity now. … We’re very excited that we made it.”

The Lancers have won their past two WPIAL titles in lopsided fashion, and while they certainly are capable of erupting on offense at any time, all signs are pointing toward a more competitive contest this time around. After all, Gonglik made Laurel’s loaded lineup look relatively timid while striking out 14 in a complete-game gem, rising to the occasion against a marquee opponent while proving to be every bit as overpowering as advertised.

Bentworth’s Sydney Gonglik prepares to bat against Laurel in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at North Allegheny. Gonglik is batting .760 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs along with a record of 17-1 with an 0.71 ERA and 255 strikeouts in 109 innings pitched. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

For the season, Gonglik is 17-1 with an 0.71 ERA, 0.45 WHIP and a whopping 255 strikeouts to only nine walks. Equally intimidating at the plate, she is slashing .760/.831/1.620 — good for a ridiculous OPS of 2.451 — with 9 doubles, 5 triples, 8 home runs, 21 RBIs and 46 runs scored while drawing 20 walks.

“Sydney is the wild card for us,” said Bearcats coach Jack Kramer. “If she’s not pitching, we’re not here. Simple as that.”

Although Gonglik has received plenty of fanfare for her remarkable debut season, her counterpart from Neshannock is a certified star in her own right. Junior pitcher Addy Frye is a Providence recruit who has done nothing but dominate since arriving on the scene as a freshman, and Frye is enjoying another sensational season at the plate and in the circle.

Now boasting 19 home runs for her career, Frye is batting .528 with 6 doubles, 4 home runs, 29 RBIs and 17 runs scored on the year — and her pitching numbers are even more eye-popping. Frye is 14-0 with an 0.65 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and 150 strikeouts to just seven walks across 75 innings, and she now owns a sparkling career record of 62-1.

“This is something special. Not a lot of people do this,” Frye said. “I know we have a great team and a very special program. We just keep doing it. We have to stay humble and just keep playing our game.”

Neshannock’s Addy Frye holds a record of 14-0 to go with an 0.65 ERA and 150 strikeouts to just seven walks in 75 innings pitched, and she also is batting .528 with four home runs and 29 RBIs. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Unlike the past two seasons, though, Frye has received a bit of extra rest to keep her arm fresh for the stretch run, with senior Abigale Measel providing another lights-out arm for Lash to turn to if needed. On the season, Measel is 7-0 with an 0.40 ERA, 0.40 WHIP and 74 strikeouts to only five walks in 35 innings.

Still, with Frye coming off a one-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts in a 5-0 semifinal win against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, it’s clear Lash is ready to let her ace off the leash.

“[Frye] did a great job [against OLSH],” Lash said. “I think it’s great that we have Abigale Measel, in case there’s a game where we need to use both pitchers.”

Often lost in the shadow of Frye and the acclaimed Nogay sisters, junior third baseman Gabby Quinn is one of the best pure hitters in the area and a future Division I player in her own right. The Kent State recruit is right on Frye’s heels with 17 career homers, and she is batting .417 this season with 5 doubles, 5 home runs, 29 RBIs and 29 runs scored.

Neshannock’s Gabby Quinn prepares to bat in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals against OLSH on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at North Allegheny. Quinn is batting .417 with a team-leading five home runs and 29 RBIs. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Speaking of the Nogay sisters, sophomore Jaidon Nogay is the last one remaining after the graduation of Neleh (now a two-time first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection at Fordham) and Aaralyn (a MAC All-Freshman Team selection at Bowling Green) — and she is certainly doing her part to live up to the family name. Nogay is batting .471 with 7 doubles, 2 triples, a home run, 17 RBIs, 28 runs scored and 19 stolen bases.

Elsewhere, junior Miley Anderson has been one of the top breakout players in Class 2A, batting .467 with 3 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs and 12 RBIs while leading the team with 23 steals and 32 runs scored. Plus, senior catcher Gabby Perod is as steady as they come, hitting .414 with a team-high 10 doubles to go with 2 triples, a homer and 20 RBIs.

“Hitting-wise, they’ve been working so hard at practice,” Lash said. “Again, it’s another year where we’re offering to stay after. Whoever wants to do some more optional hitting. Last night, the night before, coming out on a Sunday night — they’re just willing to put in the time and get in a lot of good reps.”

On top of its pristine record, Neshannock has developed a reputation for taking on all comers during the past three seasons, having throttled several elite foes from higher classifications such as Avonworth, West Allegheny and Armstrong (twice). Still, even with all the top-notch competition the Lancers have faced in recent years, it’s safe to say they have never seen a pitcher like the one they’re going to face on Thursday.

But if Bentworth is going to shock the world and take down the reigning champions, the Bearcats will need a sidekick to step up alongside Gonglik, because she certainly can’t do it alone. Last week, it was sophomore Sofia Gaussa who delivered a walk-off two-run double to beat Laurel with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Fellow sophomores Nora Lindley and Zoie McDonald are tied for the team lead with 30 RBIs — perhaps one of them has a signature moment in store? Or maybe there’s an unsung hero waiting in the wings, ready to step up in the big moment when least expected.

One way or another, fans can expect to see seven innings of fireworks when these two teams collide for the grand prize at Lilley Field — and maybe more.

“The task in front of us is pretty good,” Cramer said. “We’ve just got to go out and play ball.”

Seneca Valley’s Lexie Hames celebrates with her teammates after a 2-0 win against Hempfield on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at Seneca Valley High School. Hames pitched a no-hitter with 18 strikeouts in the win. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 6A

No. 2 Seneca Valley (20-1) vs. No. 5 Norwin (10-10) — 4:30 p.m. Wednesday

Few expected Norwin to make it this far after finishing 8-10 in the regular season, but the Knights shocked defending champion Hempfield with a 5-2 upset win in the semifinal round to reach their first WPIAL title game. Awaiting them on the big stage will be the Seneca Valley Raiders, led by the one and only Lexie Hames.

Widely regarded as one of the best two-way players the WPIAL has ever seen, Hames has Seneca Valley back in the championship game for the third year in a row despite missing a chunk of action late in the regular season while dealing with shoulder/neck soreness. A junior pitcher and Clemson recruit, Hames is 15-0 with an 0.33 ERA, 0.44 WHIP and 223 strikeouts to 19 walks in 95 innings of work. The 2023 PUP Player of the Year is also batting .423 with 8 home runs, 25 RBIs and 25 walks, with many free passes of the intentional variety — including a pair of intentional walks with the bases loaded in a 22-3 win against Pine-Richland on April 22.

There’s no doubt the Raiders will be heavy favorites on Wednesday, but don’t count Norwin out just yet. After all, the Knights just knocked off the No. 1 seed in an upset nobody saw coming, so why can’t they do it again? Norwin is a battle-tested, veteran team led by senior shortstop Bailey Snowberger. The Holy Cross recruit helped bring the Knights a WPIAL title in basketball less than three months ago, and now she has the chance to play for one more championship in what could be her final high school game. Remember, only one WPIAL team advances to the PIAA tournament in Class 6A, so the loser of this game is done for the season.

Armstrong senior Jessie Pugh is batting .446 with five home runs and 40 RBIs this season and now has 32 home runs for her career. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 5A

No. 1 Armstrong (17-3) vs. No. 10 Thomas Jefferson (11-7) — 2:15 p.m. Thursday

For the fourth year in a row, Armstrong finds itself back in the WPIAL championship game against a brand-new opponent, with Thomas Jefferson representing the only double-digit seed to reach the finals this year. Both teams are seeking their second WPIAL title, with a walk-off win against Penn-Trafford in 2022 sandwiched between runner-up finishes against North Hills and Trinity for the River Hawks. The Jaguars, meanwhile, haven’t won a title since 2014, with their most recent championship appearance coming in 2018.

Armstrong features a high-powered lineup led by two of the most acclaimed seniors in the area in shortstop Emma Paul and first baseman Jessie Pugh, who will each be starting in their fourth consecutive WPIAL championship game. Paul is batting .483 with 7 home runs, 25 RBIs and 35 runs scored, and her walk-off two-run blast lifted the River Hawks to an 8-6 come-from-behind win against Penn-Trafford in the semifinal round. Also a PUP First-Team All-Star selection in basketball who will play softball at Fairmont State next year, Paul now has 24 home runs in her stellar career. Meanwhile, Pugh is batting .446 with five home runs and a team-leading 40 RBIs, and she now has 32 homers for her career.

Thomas Jefferson may appear to be overmatched on paper, but the Jaguars have been in this position before under 12th-year coach Heidi Karcher. In her second year as coach in 2014, Thomas Jefferson stunned Mars in extra innings as a No. 13 seed to win its first WPIAL title. Freshman pitcher Aubrey Shaffer has a 3.01 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 124 innings for the Jaguars, while senior Zoe Krizan has belted five home runs with 19 RBIs.

Elizabeth Forward pitcher Shelby Telegdy (24) and shortstop Julia Resnik (42) have the Warriors in position to capture their first WPIAL title since 2019. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 4A

No. 1 Elizabeth Forward (19-1) vs. No. 2 Hampton (17-4) — 4:30 p.m. Thursday

One of only two matchups between the top-two seeds in their respective bracket, the final championship game of the week should be an epic showdown between Elizabeth Forward and Hampton, with the Talbots seeking their first WPIAL title and the Warriors aiming for their second.

This is Elizabeth Forward’s fourth WPIAL championship appearance in the past six seasons, although the Warriors haven’t been to the big game since 2021 while coming off back-to-back WPIAL semifinal defeats in 2022 and 2023. They were also the top seed last year after completing an undefeated regular season, and their only blemish this year was a 2-1 loss against reigning Class 6A champion Hempfield on April 22. Led by senior pitcher Shelby Telegdy (0.56 ERA, 161 strikeouts, .569 batting average, 5 home runs, 27 RBIs) and sophomore shortstop Julia Resnik (.552, 7 home runs, 26 RBIs), Elizabeth Forward has outscored its first 20 opponents by a combined score of 209-12.

For Hampton, Pitt recruit Mackenzie Reese is a multi-talented catcher batting .535 with 5 homers, 39 RBIs and 35 runs scored, and Albany recruit Charlotte Lomb is also having a big year for the Talbots. Freshman pitcher Marissa Snyder might not have the experience to match Telegdy, but she is certainly performing well in her first taste of the postseason so far, with only two runs allowed in her first two playoff starts against Knoch and Blackhawk. Of course, the Warriors will present a much tougher challenge than any she has faced before, but Snyder should still give Hampton a chance to pull off the upset.

Class 3A

No. 3 South Park (19-1) vs. No. 4 Mohawk (17-5) — noon Wednesday

South Park sophomore Sydney Sekely is in the midst of one of the most dominant stretches by any WPIAL pitcher in recent memory, posting six consecutive shutouts en route to the WPIAL finals with 13 shutouts in her past 14 games. The Eagles have won 18 games in a row since a 5-4 defeat against Class 1A finalist Chartiers-Houston on March 25, and Sekely has allowed one run or less in 17 consecutive contests, with 14 shutouts and a grand total of three runs allowed during that span. She has 231 strikeouts and an absurd 0.31 ERA on the year.

In her most recent outing, Sekely pitched a perfect game with nine strikeouts in a 3-0 semifinal win against No. 2 Ligonier Valley on Tuesday, upstaging Rams ace Cheyenne Piper, who entered the game with a streak of three consecutive no-hitters. With Sekely taking the circle in the first championship game of the week on Wednesday afternoon, South Park should like its chances of ending a 21-year title drought — but it won’t be easy against Mohawk.

The Warriors are fresh off a 5-3 upset win against two-time defending champion and No. 1 seed Avonworth in the WPIAL semifinals, and they have no shortage of big bats throughout their lineup capable of changing the game in an instant. Sophomore Addy Moskal (.522 batting average) and senior Aricka Young (.500) are both enjoying terrific seasons at the plate, and it’s hard to spot a real weakness in Mohawk’s lineup. If anybody can find a way to crack the code against Sekely, it’s the Warriors.

Union’s Mia Preuhs is one win away from pitching the Scotties to their third consecutive WPIAL title. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 1A

No. 1 Union (20-1) vs. No. 3 Chartiers-Houston (16-2) — 2:15 p.m. Wednesday

One of the best matchups of this week’s slate pits two-time defending Class 1A champion Union against one of the WPIAL’s most tradition-rich programs in Chartiers-Houston, which is seeking its ninth WPIAL title and first since 2012. Now in his sixth year at the helm, coach Doug Fisher has the Scotties playing in the WPIAL final for the fifth year in a row, while Buccaneers coach Tricia Alderson is attempting to win her sixth WPIAL title in her 21-year stint at her alma mater.

These teams clashed in last year’s WPIAL semifinals, when Union prevailed, 13-5, before rallying for an action-packed 10-8 victory against Carmichaels in the WPIAL title game. This time, Chartiers-Houston vanquished the No. 2 Mighty Mikes in the semifinal round, 3-2, to earn another crack at the champs — and the Bucs are certainly relishing the opportunity for revenge. Chartiers-Houston junior pitcher Meadow Ferri (1.02 ERA, 198 strikeouts, .500 batting average, 3 home runs, 28 RBIs) and junior catcher Ella Richey (.565, 9 home runs, 29 RBIs, 35 runs scored) are two of the top players in the state in Class 1A, and both will need to bring their A-game on Wednesday.

For the Scotties, junior pitcher Mia Preuhs is a certified ace with ice in her veins, sporting a 1.44 ERA and 150 strikeouts while batting .442 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs. Senior Mallory Gorgacz (.404, 7 doubles, 16 RBIs, 21 runs scored), junior Addie Nogay (.474, 6 doubles, 5 triples, 4 home runs, 26 RBIs, 37 runs scored), sophomore Olivia Benedict (.491, 6 doubles, 4 home runs, 24 RBIs, 26 runs scored), sophomore Olivia Williams (.532, 5 doubles, 16 RBIs, 38 runs scored) and freshman Irelyn Fisher (.431, 7 doubles, 3 triples, 6 home runs, 42 RBIs, 23 runs scored) are also having monster years at the plate for Union.

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.