CALIFORNIA – Charleroi High School softball coach Trey Tilghman solemnly stood outside the visitor’s dugout at California University’s Lilley Field.
Tilghman, who led the Cougars to their first postseason appearance in 15 years, wanted to send his six seniors off with at least one playoff win.
McGuffey senior pitcher Cassie Weiss had other plans.
Weiss, who became one of the WPIAL’s best pitchers, struck out seven, allowed just three hits and pitched a complete game shutout Tuesday to help the Highlanders defeat Charleroi, 4-0, in a WPIAL Class AA first round playoff game.
McGuffey (14-3) will face No. 2 seed Deer Lakes (16-0) in the quarterfinals at a site and time to be determined. It is a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals, when the Lancers defeated the Highlanders, 13-3.
“Cassie pitched a good game,” McGuffey head coach Bill Loar said after calling Weiss the lady of the hour. “She kept the ball down and she makes it easy for us on defense. We’re going to have to lean on her during the playoffs, but we’ll need our offense to score a few runs too.”
Weiss was efficient by throwing 88 pitches and allowing only five batters to reach base. After watching her younger sister, Sammie, a junior shortstop for the Highlanders, receive attention from back-to-back Observer-Reporter Girls Basketball Player of the Year awards and a first team all-state selection, Weiss is excited for her turn in the spotlight.
“It’s exciting how I am pitching,” she said. “This is one of the best years I’ve ever had and I’m glad that I’m enjoying it. I didn’t want my senior year to end without a playoff win, so I came out here ready.”
Charleroi pitcher Jennifer Tilghman was able to match Weiss’ dominance in the circle. The junior right-hander allowed just two hits in the first three innings, but did receive help from McGuffey’s players.
The Highlanders loaded the bases in the first inning with two hits and an error. McGuffey drew the count full three times in six at-bats and forced Tilghman to throw 27 pitches in the bottom of the first before the junior escaped unscathed.
After discipline at the plate worked for the Highlanders, they did not record a hit in the second or third innings – swinging at pitches out of the zone and not sticking to the strategy that almost gave them an early lead.
“It took three innings for us to adjust to (Tilghman),” Loar said. “She had a slow curveball that she kept on the outside of the plate. We started to hit the ball better, but you have to give them credit. Charleroi’s program has come a long way.”
Weiss held the Cougars (11-4) to three hits over the first four innings, then her offense finally backed up her play. McGuffey sophomore catcher Carae Wagner led off the bottom of the fourth with an infield single and scored two batters later on a RBI-single by center fielder Mara McBride.
Throwing a curveball, changeup, screwball and a rising fastball, Weiss was dominant in closing out the win. Charleroi had runners on second and third with one out in the top of the fifth, but Weiss recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.
Weiss’s improved breaking pitches have thrown opposing hitters off balance all season. Thursday’s performance was no different.
“(Weiss) kept us off balance with that curveball,” Trey Tilghman said. “We had to hit the ball and that didn’t happen. There’s no room for mistakes in the playoffs.”
The Highlanders added three runs in the fifth on second baseman Marlie Mounts’ RBI-double, left fielder Meghan Schultz’s RBI-double and Schultz scoring when third baseman Moriah McGuier reached on an error.
“Even with this win, you have to start looking ahead a bit,” Loar said. “We are familiar with Deer Lakes and the quality team they have, but we have to prepare better. It won’t be easy.”