WAYNESBURG – Jim Armstrong enjoyed his time coaching at McGuffey. The current Waynesburg softball coach always smiles when reflecting on his 18 years in Claysville.
There is one occasion where sentimental feelings have been brushed aside: when the Raiders and Highlanders face each other. Armstrong, who took over as the Raiders’ head coach in 2011, had not beaten McGuffey in seven tries.
Thanks to his sophomore second baseman, Armstrong can scratch a win over McGuffey off his to-do list.
Tiffany Ross hit a go-ahead grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning to lift Waynesburg over McGuffey, 11-9, in a Section 2-AA game.
The Raiders (5-2, 7-7) are now a game behind the Highlanders (7-2, 11-2) for first place in the section and avoided a season sweep after losing to McGuffey, 9-1, March 28.
“I had a lot of fun during my time at McGuffey and we had some great teams,” Armstrong said. “I’m really enjoying Waynesburg and its always nice playing them. It was a rivalry when I was at McGuffey and that hasn’t changed. These are games that are nice to win.”
Waynesburg trailed 9-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning when the seven-run rally began. Senior catcher Emily Luckey led off with a single before McGuffey senior pitcher Cassie Weiss struck out the next batter and forced a groundout.
With two outs, the Highlanders chose to intentionally walk Raiders junior third baseman Hannah Gibbons, who went 2-for-2 with three runs and two extra-base hits. Senior center fielder Jenna Henry hit an RBI-single and sophomore first baseman Taylor Staley hit a two-run single to draw Waynesburg to within two, 9-7.
Gibbons, a University of Pennsylvania recruit, collected a triple and double before that final at-bat. As her team’s leadoff hitter, the power-swinging corner infielder is invaluable to Waynesburg.
“(Hannah) stays at No. 1,” Armstrong said. “You can walk her when you want, but she’ll still find a way to hurt you. We’ll make you pay for it, and that’s what Tiffany did.”
Raiders senior pitcher Jordan Moore walked to load the bases and that brought Ross to the plate. Armstrong called time to deliver a simple message to Ross: “Be yourself and hit the ball the way you know how.”
Ross responded by hitting a first pitch fastball over the fence in left-center field for a ground slam and a two-run lead for Waynesburg.
“This was an incredibly moving game for us,” Ross said. “It shows us that our hard work is paying off, and it was great because our seniors did not know what it’s like to beat McGuffey. We had the mindset that we couldn’t beat them, and we finally broke that.”
Moore gave up a two-out single in the top of the seventh before forcing McGuffey sophomore left fielder Meghan Schultz to pop up to short to end the game.
The Raiders withstood four lead changes that began in the first inning when Gibbons led off with a triple and scored on an error. McGuffey added two runs in the second and one in the third to take a 3-1 lead before Waynesburg broke out in the third inning with three runs driven in. Gibbons began the rally with a double.
“You have to give credit to Waynesburg,” McGuffey head coach Bill Loar said. “They can hit the ball. Cassie was getting the ball up in the zone, and they made her pay.”
The Raiders had a 4-3 lead before the Highlanders scored five runs on seven hits in the fifth inning, which was capped by a three-run home run from sophomore first baseman Rachel Kleinhans.
Waynesburg withstood the deficit and controls its own destiny with a potential section title on the line.
“That’s been our attitude this whole season,” Gibbons said of the late rally. “That’s Waynesburg softball. We have a lot of enthusiasm and we didn’t get down on ourselves after they took that lead. It’s a huge win.”