When Latrobe defeated Penn-Trafford by a run in the WPIAL softball third-place consolation game Thursday, Wildcats coach Alexa Bryson got the sense that her team could be primed for something bigger.
As Bryson saw it, the win did more than get Latrobe into the PIAA playoffs. After going a week without a game, the Wildcats were invigorated by the experience and gained momentum at a crucial time in the season.
That much was evident Monday — in a big, big way.
Latrobe jumped on the board early, scoring five runs in the second inning, a spurt which propelled it to a surprising 6-4 victory against WPIAL champion Shaler in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs at Hampton.
“I think we saw we could hang with them and we had a lead,” Bryson said of the second inning. “That’s always exciting to get it early and it gave us some momentum going into the last few innings.”
The loss was just the second for the Titans (17-4) in their past 16 games, a run in which they beat their previous three playoff opponents by a combined score of 23-6.
But any thoughts of the Wildcats (17-5) becoming another victim in that trend quickly evaporated.
Jenna Raccor and Reilly McCracken drove in runs to spot Latrobe a 2-0 lead in the second, and then Shelby Noel broke things open later in the same inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, Noel hit a double to the left-center gap, bringing three runs home.
“I could tell she was itching to get a hit and she was definitely due for that,” Bryson said. “That was a sweet run for her to clear the bases.”
Despite recording at least one hit in every inning, the Wildcats scored only one more run, and allowed Shaler to mount a comeback.
With Shaler facing a 5-1 deficit in the fourth, Mia Sipple doubled with the bases loaded to score two. The Titans added another run to get within one.
An insurance run from Noel in the seventh pushed Latrobe’s lead to two, and with runners on first and second in the bottom of the inning, Shaler’s Brianna Dobson struck out to end the game, sending the district’s top team to an earlier-than-expected exit.
“Latrobe’s very good, they hit the hell out of us and we lost,” Shaler coach Skip Palmer said. “They were a better team today. If we played them again, I think we could beat them, but today, I lost to them. It’s how it happens.”
Five Latrobe players had two or more hits, a group led by Alexus Fearer, who went 3 for 3 with a run. The Wildcats will play DuBois, the District 9 champion, in the PIAA quarterfinals Thursday.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG