McKEES ROCKS – Veteran North Allegheny High School softball coach Rick Meister saw his team’s runner on first base, felt the wind kicking up, saw the dark clouds forming on the horizon behind home plate and checked the scoreboard in right centerfield at Fairhaven Park. The latter showed that Peters Township led North Allegheny, 4-3, with no outs in the sixth inning.
Meister then made the decision that only head coaches can make.
“I decided that we were playing for the tie,” Meister said. “With a runner on first base and the No. 8 hitter up, I was playing for one run in case the rain came.”
But nothing in this WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal game went according to plan. The rain never came. And while playing for only one run, North Allegheny ended up scoring five runs in the pivotal inning and went on to a 7-4 come-from-behind victory.
The win sends North Allegheny (17-4) into next Thursday’s championship game against the winner of today’s Canon-McMillan-Hempfield contest. It will be North Allegheny’s first appearance in the WPIAL title game since 2006.
Peters Township (18-5) will play the Canon-Mac-Hempfield loser Tuesday in a third-place game, with the winner advancing to the state tournament. Despite making five errors, Peters Township had taken the 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth when sophomore shortstop Lindsay McKnight laced a three-run double into the right-field corner, a play that was potentially the game-winner.
“That wasn’t the best performance we’ve had in the field, but we battled back and got the lead,” said Peters Township coach Bob Bowers. “We got a little spark, came back and shifted the momentum. That was good to see.”
Most aspects of PT’s performance drew rave reviews. Defense, however, was not one of them. The Indians committed three errors in the first inning, but sophomore starting pitcher Kellyn Perich bailed out the Indians with two strikeouts and escaped the inning unscathed. PT gave up unearned runs in the third and fifth innings to fall behind 2-0.
After McKnight’s bases-loaded double gave PT the lead, North Allegheny was content to play for the tie in the sixth when Rachel Pecanis led off with a single. Anna Sardon then dropped down a perfect bunt, pushing it between the pitcher’s circle and charging first baseman Molly Campbell for a single. Instead of one runner on base and one out, the Tigers had two on and no outs.
“That bunt single was the key hit in the inning,” Meister said.
“We should have had an out on that bunt. That play started their momentum,” he said.
And it took quite some time for PT to stop the roll.
After pinch-hitter Liz Scherer’s successful bunt put two runners in scoring position, leadoff hitter Laura Cotter doubled to right centerfield to put NA back in the lead at 5-4. Cotter’s hit was followed by doubles from Logan Woodley and Christine Scherer, and Bonnie Pierson’s single. Suddenly, it was 7-3.
“There is no panic in these kids. It’s one of our characteristics,” Meister said. “It’s nothing magical. These kids just know that nobody is defeated until 21 outs are made.”
Peters didn’t go down quietly. The Indians, who won in walk-off fashion in the first round and in a 1-0 thriller in the quarterfinals, pulled to within 7-4 when sophomore Carly Konopka homered off the roof of the concession stand beyond left field to start the bottom of the sixth.
The Indians, however, mustered only one more baserunner against winning pitcher Sami Beining, who gave up eight hits but did not walk a batter and struck out six. North Allegheny had 11 hits, seven of those in the key sixth inning.
Leadoff hitter Hannah Berardino, McKnight and Konopka each had two hits for PT, but the bottom four spots in the Indians’ batting order combined to go 0-for-12.
“Usually, our defense is solid,” Bowers said. “When we play well is when we play well defensively. We made some errors, and North Allegheny hit the ball. It’s tough to beat base hits.”