Thomas Jefferson sure is getting used to taking lengthy bus rides — and after another huge win on Thursday, the Jaguars are just one win away from booking one more road trip to Penn State’s Beard Field to play for the ultimate prize.

On second thought, don’t call them the Jaguars anymore — call them the Road Warriors.

“The bus ride is a nice bus ride when you win,” said longtime Thomas Jefferson coach Heidi Karcher. “[This one is] not as bad as the last one.”

After traveling about 500 miles round-trip into hostile territory on Monday and returning home with a blowout win at District 3 runner-up Solanco in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A tournament, the Jaguars (13-8) took a three-hour trip out to Norlo Park Complex in Chambersburg, Pa., for a PIAA quarterfinal matchup with District 1 runner-up West Chester East on Thursday. After a low-scoring, hotly contested battle that came down to the wire, Thomas Jefferson emerged victorious with a 3-1 triumph to clinch a spot in the state semifinals.

“I really believed that we had a good team. I knew in my heart that we did,” Karcher said. “We hit a couple rough spots early on in the season, but deep down in my heart, I knew we had the ability to make a run.”

Addi Bracco delivered the biggest hit of the game for the Jaguars, driving in a pair with a go-ahead double to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning. Morgan Alisesky followed up her 5-for-5 performance on Monday with two more hits on Thursday, and Hannah Alonso went 3 for 3 with an RBI to get Thomas Jefferson on the board while trailing, 1-0, in the bottom of the fourth.

Thomas Jefferson freshman Aubrey Shaffer, pictured during the 2024 WPIAL Class 5A championship game against Armstrong, helped guide the Jaguars to the state semifinals with a stellar performance in a 3-1 PIAA quarterfinal win against West Chester East. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

But while the Jaguars’ offense erupted for 17 runs in the lopsided win against Solanco on Monday — including 10 in the top of the seventh inning — it was the stellar pitching of freshman Aubrey Shaffer that paved the way for Thomas Jefferson’s upset win on Thursday. Shaffer twirled a terrific complete game on 97 pitches against West Chester East (16-9), striking out seven and allowing one run on five hits and three walks while pitching with a poise beyond her years.

“She was really upset with herself after the WPIAL [championship] game,” Karcher said. “I was like, ‘You cannot be upset. You are pitching every single game for us. You’ve pitched every game incredibly well. This is stuff that happens in sports.’

“Again, she’s a fighter. And she wasn’t going to go down without putting up a fight. And that’s what she’s done the last two games.”

The Jaguars have made one previous trip to the PIAA semifinals under Karcher in 2018 but have never played for a state title before. And who could have seen it coming this year? After all, Thomas Jefferson finished only 9-7 during the regular season and received a No. 10 seed for the WPIAL tournament before making a run all the way to the finals and losing to Armstrong, 9-3 — but not before taking a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning while exceeding all expectations as a massive underdog against the No. 1 seed.

“The girls were upset about the No. 10 seed, and I’m like, ‘Hey, what are you going to do? We lost a couple games early in the season,'” Karcher said. “And that’s OK. We just had to learn from our mistakes. … It’s the hardest thing, when you lose in the WPIAL championship. That next game is always very difficult, because emotions are low.

“The coaches and I just kept telling the girls, ‘We’ve got to continue to fight,’ and that’s what the girls are doing right now.”

Now, expectations, seeds and records can all be tossed aside, with District 6 champion Central Mountain standing as the only team remaining in the Jaguars’ path to their first state title game. Central Mountain knocked off Penn-Trafford, 10-0, in the first round, then defeated Armstrong in Thursday’s quarterfinal round, 4-1.

Thomas Jefferson will likely be a sizable underdog once again in the eyes of many, and these “Road Warriors” may have another long journey in front of them — but that’s just the way they like it.

“It doesn’t matter what seed you are,” Karcher said. “We play in a tough section, and [Class] 5A is tough softball. Everybody has to occupy a seed. That’s just the way it is. You just have to finish strong.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you end.”

Laurel’s Mayci Lang celebrates with her team after hitting a home run against Bentworth in the first inning of the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals on Thursday, June 6, 2024, at Gateway High School. Laurel won, 5-3. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 6A

WPIAL champion Seneca Valley saw its season come to an end in a 4-0 defeat at Norlo Park Complex at the hands of District 1 powerhouse North Penn (23-3), the defending PIAA Class 6A champion and winner of two state titles in the past three seasons. North Penn’s Bella Nunn had to settle for a one-hit shutout after the Raiders (22-2) broke up her no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh inning. Gianna Cimino hit a leadoff home run off Seneca Valley star Lexie Hames in the bottom of the first inning, then North Penn used some small ball to scratch across three more insurance runs to polish off the victory.

Class 4A

• Senior pitcher Shelby Telegdy had a game for the ages for WPIAL champion Elizabeth Forward (22-1), powering the Warriors to their second consecutive state semifinal appearance with an 11-1 victory against Chartiers Valley at Gateway. One of the WPIAL’s top two-way stars, Telegdy went 4 for 5 with a double, a home run and six RBIs and pitched a complete game while allowing one run on six hits with eight strikeouts. Julia Resnik went 2 for 4 with three runs scored and Carlee Soukup went 3 for 4 with a walk, RBI and run scored as Elizabeth Forward racked up 18 hits in the lopsided victory. Kali Franklin went 2 for 4 in the defeat for the Colts (18-5).

Elizabeth Forward’s Shelby Telegdy celebrates with her team after hitting a three-run home run in an 11-1 win against Chartiers Valley in the sixth inning of the PIAA Class 4A quarterfinals on Thursday, June 6, 2024, at Gateway High School. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 2A

• In a highly anticipated rematch of their memorable WPIAL semifinal tilt, Laurel (21-5) and Bentworth (18-4) proved to be worthy adversaries once again in another heated battle — but this time, it was the Spartans who avenged their walk-off defeat from the first meeting with a 5-3 win at Gateway. Addie Deal and Mayci Lang each mashed home runs off Bearcats freshman star Sydney Gonglik, who struck out 11 and swatted a three-run homer to provide all of Bentworth’s offense in the defeat. Autumn Boyd pitched a complete game with 14 strikeouts while allowing three runs on two hits and three walks for Laurel.

• It will be another all-Lawrence County showdown in the state semifinals, as unbeaten WPIAL champion Neshannock clinched its third consecutive PIAA semifinal appearance with a 5-0 win against District 10 champion Saegertown (19-3) at Allegheny College. Providence recruit Addy Frye pitched another gem for her fourth consecutive shutout, striking out 17 and walking none while allowing only one hit in a complete-game victory. Miley Anderson went 3 for 4 with a pair of steals and three runs scored, and Gabby Perod drove in a pair for the Lancers (24-0), who now have a record of 72-1 in their last 73 games.

Class 1A

• Meadow Ferri continued her remarkable postseason for WPIAL champion Chartiers-Houston, pitching a two-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts to lead the Buccaneers to a 4-0 win against District 6 runner-up West Branch (21-4) at Mount Aloysius College. Star catcher Ella Richey also went 2 for 4 with a run scored to help send Chartiers-Houston (20-2) to the state semifinals. After breaking a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth inning, the Buccaneers plated a pair of insurance runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh to help seal the victory.

• Chartiers-Houston will meet a familiar foe for a spot in the state championship game, as Section 2 co-champion Carmichaels advanced past District 6 champion Claysburg-Kimmel (23-2) with a one-sided 8-1 victory at Berlin Brothersvalley High School. Carys McConnell went 3 for 3 with a walk, a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored, Ali Jacobs went 2 for 4 with a homer and five RBIs, and Bailey Barnyak went 1 for 2 with a pair of walks and three runs scored while pitching a complete game with eight strikeouts and one run allowed on six hits for the Mighty Mikes (18-2).

Laurel’s Addie Deal high-fives coach Frank Duddy after hitting a solo home run in the third inning of a 5-3 win against Bentworth in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals on Thursday, June 6, 2024, at Gateway High School. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)


Class 6A quarterfinals

North Penn 4, Seneca Valley 0

Class 5A quarterfinals

Central Mountain 4, Armstrong 1

Thomas Jefferson 3, West Chester East 1

Class 4A quarterfinals

Elizabeth Forward 11, Chartiers Valley 1

Class 2A quarterfinals

Laurel 5, Bentworth 3

Neshannock 5, Saegertown 0

Class 1A quarterfinals

Carmichaels 8, Claysburg-Kimmel 1

Chartiers-Houston 4, West Branch 0

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