High school softball: Neshannock comes up short in frustrating defeat

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Standing along the right field line 15 minutes after the final out had been recorded, Tracy Kimmel was a man resigned to fate.

His Neshannock softball team had just lost a back-and-forth, 5-4 game to Claysburg-Kimmel in the PIAA Class A semifinals, the kind of setback that left questions and hypotheticals.

The opponent's five runs largely came off two hits, ones that were no more than a few inches from being outs.

A coaching stalwart, Kimmel knew this all too well. So after seeing his team's hopes of a state championship fall painfully short, he kept coming back to a familiar refrain.

"That's just the way this game goes," he said.

The eight-inning loss at Hempfield deprived the WPIAL champion Lancers (18-3) of a third consecutive appearance in the state championship.

Their loss also assured that no WPIAL baseball or softball team would make the PIAA championship for the first time since 1979.

All nine runs came in the final three innings after the teams combined for no runs and four hits in the first five innings. With the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, Keyara Morgan hit a bloop single just in front of Neshannock's left and center fielders, to give the Bulldogs (21-4) three runs, the third of which scored on a throwing error.

At the time, it appeared as if the Lancers were finished. But Neshannock still had some good fortune on its side.

In the bottom of the seventh, two outs from elimination, Jenna DeLuca, the team's No. 9 hitter, belted a three-run home run to tie the score.

"I thought we were in the drivers' seat when we hit that three-run homer," Kimmel said. "I really did. I thought we'd come back in and that would shut them down and we'd come back and win it."

But any momentum from that proved to be short-lived.

Kiersten Coho hit a line drive to right that Kaela Zingaro nearly caught in spectacular fashion, but the ball fell in a fraction of a second before she could get to it.

That hit scored what proved to be the winning runs in the top of the eighth.

As much as the bounces went against the Lancers, they went in favor of the Bulldogs, the District 6 champion.

"It was the first time all year we've been getting clutch hits at times that we needed them," Claysburg-Kimmel coach Mike Barbarini said. "We always were falling a little bit short and today, they all fell in for us."

The final four batters in Neshannock's order were responsible for four of its six hits, a group led by Zingaro, who went 2 for 3 with a run.

But it simply wasn't enough.

"It was just one of those games today," Kimmel said. "You just have to accept it as softball."

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

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