One of the biggest concerns a coach from a WPIAL championship softball team has to contend with is the first game in the PIAA playoffs.
It was no different for the Montour High Spartans, as they found themselves trailing District 9 champion Punxsutawney by one run just two innings into their first-round PIAA Class AAA game on Monday at North Allegheny High School.
But while the offense took a little longer than Spartans' fans might have liked, it did eventually show up. Montour tied the game with a single run in the fourth, and Allison Hrydail's two-run single highlighted a three-run fifth as the Spartans went on to a 4-1 victory against the Chucks. The Spartans improved to 18-5 on the season.
Montour meets another WPIAL team, Greensburg Salem, at 2 p.m. today at North Allegheny. The Golden Lions, the No. 3 team from the WPIAL, improved to 17-3 after they walloped City League representative Carrick, 16-0, on Monday at McGibbney Field in Brookline.
"We gave [the team] a couple of days off [after the WPIAL championship game]," said Montour coach Bill Wills. "We didn't come out with a lot of fire [on Monday]. I told the girls this is not the way we want to keep going."
A slow start offensively became even more problematic as the Chucks took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second under unusual circumstances.
Johnna Depp lined a single off the glove of Spartans' first baseman Tori Roman for a leadoff single and stole second. One out later, Depp advanced to third when an illegal pitch was called on Spartans' pitcher Kaitlyn Kutchman after she had apparently struck out the Chucks' Sydney Phillips. With the pitch ruled a ball and the count 2-2, Phillips hit a fly ball that brought Depp home.
"The umpires said I was replacing my foot and coming off [the rubber]," Kutchman said. "I've never done that before, but if I did it, I did it. We came back, and we scored. I had to make sure I kept my foot on the [rubber]. After awhile, I got used to it."
Wills confirmed his pitcher's assessment.
"They said she was outside the 18-inch [zone] with her curve ball," Wills said. "In college, you see lines drawn from the pitching rubber to the front of the circle. They don't do that in high school, but they said she was outside the 18-inch circle."
Wills said Kutchman shook off the ruling and continued to attack the Chucks' hitters.
"She had command of the batters," Wills said. "There wasn't anyone on this team who was going to be able to hit her the way she was pitching [Monday]."
With Kutchman taking care of the pitching, Wills hoped the team's offense would catch up. He got his wish in the fourth as the Spartans made use of their team speed to scratch out a run.
Kutchman received a full-count leadoff walk, and Bri Peckich was inserted as a courtesy runner. Peckich then went to third on Hraydil's single to right. With Tori Roman batting, Hryadil broke for second, drawing a throw from Depp, the Chucks' catcher. Peckich then raced home, beat Depp's tag while Hryadil scampered to third.
"We'll work for the first run, no matter what we have to do," Wills said. "We'll take some chances, and that's the style we've been playing. We wanted to get back even, and that's why we did what we did."
Speed had tied the game for the Spartans, and that quality helped them get the lead they'd never surrender in the fifth.
A leadoff walk to Malory Gerst started the inning. With courtesy runner Emily Diecks inserted for catcher Gerst, she advanced to second on Alyssa McMurtrie's perfectly placed bunt single.
Leadoff hitter Stacey Capp hit a roller to Chucks' pitcher Randa Depp, whose throw sailed over third baseman Ivy Phillips' head. That allowed Diecks to score, sent McMurtrie to third and Capps to second.
Two outs later, Hryadil's slicing single down the right field line scored both McMurtrie and Capp, giving Kutchman all the cushion she needed. She surrendered scratch singles in the sixth and seventh, and struck out the final two Chucks' batters to end the game.
Wills said it was no mistake that Hryadil had the clutch hit as she had three of the Spartans' five hits on Monday.
"That's what Al's done all year, and Tori has been great [late in the season]," he said of Roman. "They're our seniors, and we need them to step it up."
The Spartans must display that approach today against a Greensburg Salem team sparked by standout junior pitcher Jayne Oberdorf.
"We faced her two years ago [in the WPIAL tournament, a 2-0 Montour victory], and we know we're going to have our work cut out for us," Wills said.
Oberdorf recorded her 11th shutout of the season against Carrick.
Wills said his hitters will focus on the offense heading into today's game.
"We're just going to keep hitting for the next couple of days," he said. "We know we have a big obstacle, and we want to get where we were in 2010 in the [PIAA] semifinals."
First Published June 7, 2012 12:00 AM