Riverside falls short in PIAA Class AA final

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The ball hung in the air for a handful of seconds, suspended in flight, before landing a few feet beyond first base, no more than an inch from the white chalk of the foul line.

By the time the game ended three innings later and Brandywine Heights players rushed to the field, it was that inch that kept Riverside and pitcher Kirsten Wilson from their 16th shutout in their past 18 games.

And it was an inch that prevented the Panthers from accomplishing their season-long goal.

With a bloop single from Jessica Musser in the fourth inning, Brandywine Heights broke through for what turned out to be the game's only run in a 1-0 victory Friday in the PIAA Class AA championship at Nittany Lion Softball Park.

Riverside would have completed an undefeated season with a victory.

After riding the overpowering arm of Wilson all season, the Panthers (22-1) were shut out for the first time in more than three years, their offense falling flat at the most inopportune moment.

"We told the girls all year long -- Kirsten's going to do the pitching, we have to do the hitting, the hitting's going to win ballgames," Riverside coach Pam McCarty said. "It just didn't happen today."

Recording just four hits off Brandywine Heights pitcher Megan Olsen, the Panthers had a runner on third base with one out in the third and fourth inning, but were unable to score.

The offensive struggles nullified a strong outing from Wilson, who gave up one unearned run and had 13 strikeouts in six innings in the final game of her high school career.

"I was OK," Wilson said. "We just didn't get the hits we needed to, didn't give me the confidence that I need."

Even with Wilson succeeding on the mound, Brandywine Heights managed to find a way to score. With two outs, third baseman Amanda Hess singled and advanced to third after an error. Musser then got enough contact to send Wilson's pitch into the opposite field, over the head of Natalie Pritts and in play to bring home the deciding run.

Having lost in the PIAA championship four times since 2005, the Bullets (27-2) from District 3 were finally able to capture the top prize.

"These girls didn't talk about the past at all," Brandywine Heights coach Don Roach said. "They understood the history and they didn't mention anything about it.

"They wanted to make their own history, create their own legacy."

Riverside was making its first PIAA championship appearance since 2001, a game it also lost, 1-0, in 14 innings.

McCarty was the coach of that team and as she talked Friday about Riverside's poor hitting mechanics in the third inning, she found solace in a familiar refrain.

"Maybe next year," she said. "Hey, we strive every year [for] sections, WPIALs, states -- so maybe it's in the cards next year. We'll give it a shot."

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Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.


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