East/West Xtra: Greensburg Salem, coach gear up for final

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It could be a grand finale for Jody Morgan.

Morgan, a veteran coach of the Greensburg Salem High School softball team, is retiring from teaching after this school year, but she is undecided about her coaching future.

If this is her last season coaching, however, Morgan has a chance to go out on a historic high note.

When Greensburg Salem (20-2) plays Ambridge Area (16-3) at 4:30 p.m. today at California University of Pennsylvania in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game, it will be the first WPIAL title-game appearance in Greensburg Salem softball history.

"I am retiring from teaching and this means a whole lot," Morgan said. "I would like to go out with a bang."

While this is the first WPIAL final for Greensburg Salem, Ambridge is in the WPIAL championship game for the third time in four seasons.

The Golden Lions entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed but it has been an uphill climb to the WPIAL final. They avoided a potential major upset in the first round against No. 16 Highlands thanks to a seventh-inning grand slam by freshman left fielder Maggie Kallock with her team trailing, 3-2. Greensburg Salem would ultimately escape, 6-5.

In the WPIAL quarterfinals the Lions edged Blackhawk, 2-0, and in the WPIAL semifinals Greensburg Salem outlasted West Allegheny, 3-2, in a 10-inning game that took two days to complete because of suspended play due to rain.

"Those 48 hours we spent trying to beat West Allegheny might have been the longest 48 hours of my 35 years in coaching," Morgan said. "I feel like everyone is out for us in the playoffs, everyone wants the underdog to win."

Ambridge is back in the WPIAL final after appearing in the championship game in 2011, a 4-2 loss to Yough, which was led by current Robert Morris University standout Nicole Sleith.

The Bridgers are seeking their first WPIAL title since 2005. They reached the WPIAL final this season by knocking off West Mifflin Area, 5-4, in the semifinals. Hannah Smith hit a three-run home run in the first inning and Lexi Hilzendeger added a solo home run in the fifth that proved to be the difference.

Against the Titans, Ambridge had to overcome eight walks. West Mifflin had the potential tying run in scoring position before the Bridgers were able to record the final out.

"The girls are very excited and thrilled to be in the championship round," Ambridge coach Jim Huwar said. "West Mifflin had the tying run in scoring position and we were worried. We knew they had a good team. We dodged a bunch of bullets and the kids played well defensively to get through it."

Sophomore Kelly Haslett pitched six innings in the WPIAL semifinal and Smith, a senior, closed the game in the seventh inning. For the WPIAL final Huwar is unsure who will get the start. Smith has had a sore shoulder for the past two weeks.

Ambridge seniors Hannah Krokonko and Hilzendeger played in the 2011 WPIAL final.

"This group is down to earth," Huwar said. "They are not really intimidated by anything. They are confident and they play with a lot of enthusiasm.

"They have not taken a lot of teams lightly. Anyone can win on any given day. I think their work ethic has really carried them, especially late in the year."

Greensburg Salem is led by the senior pitcher-catcher battery of Jayne Oberdorf and Taylor Mehan. Many thought the Golden Lions would reach the WPIAL finals last season but they fell, 2-1, to Elizabeth Forward in the WPIAL semifinals.

Oberdorf earned the win in the WPIAL semifinals this season against West Allegheny and she also singled in the winning run in the top of the 10th.

Ambridge was also eliminated by Elizabeth Forward last season, losing to the Warriors in the WPIAL quarterfinals. The seniors on the team know all about WPIAL championship heartbreak. As freshmen they lost, 1-0, to Montour in the WPIAL final and as sophomore they lost, 4-2, to Yough.

"I think it motivated us a lot more," senior catcher Jaymee Humbert said of the previous WPIAL final defeats. "We have seen it happen twice -- this time we have a chance to do it ourselves.

"I remember everything about the first two trips, all the practices before, the bus ride, warming up and feeling the nerves. The losses were hard but we love that we get to go back and try to do it ourselves."



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