McKEES ROCKS – It’s never a good sign when the starting pitcher is in tears before the softball game.
But that was the scene that played out Tuesday afternoon at Fairhaven Park for the Chartiers-Houston.
Kassie Kesneck had to be switched to designated hitter for this WPIAL Class AA first-round game because of back pain. The Bucs turned to Kayla Elliott, a freshman who had pitched only three innings this season.
Elliott pitched well, but a leaky defense in a shaky first inning helped Riverside to a 4-2 victory.
The victory advanced the Panthers (11-2) into the quarterfinals, where they will play Seton-La Salle, a 3-2 winner over South Allegheny yesterday.
Chartiers-Houston, the third-place team in Section 2, finished the season with a 10-8 record.
It was the second time in as many years that Riverside knocked Chartiers-Houston out of the playoffs. Last year, the Panthers won 4-0 in the semifinals.
“We’re not sure what she did, but she hurt her back somehow,” Chartiers-Houston head coach Tricia Alderson said of Kesneck. “We had to make the switch to Kayla. She did a heck of a job, considering we only used her two or three innings all year.”
The No. 2 starter for the Bucs had been Haley Sutton, but she also couldn’t pitch because of an injury.
“I was sorry to hear that,” said Riverside head coach Pam McCarty, who was moving around on crutches after breaking her ankle last week while walking the dog. “You work all year for this time, then you have to go to Plan B.”
McCarty can sympathize, because graduation forced the Panthers to convert Brooke Barker from a second baseman to a starting pitcher.
“She was an all-section second baseman,” said McCarty, “but she did it for the team.”
Riverside scored three of its four runs in the first inning and only one was earned. Makenzie McElwain opened the game with an infield single, but was forced out by a grounder by Morgan McElwain. Barker flied to left for the second out but Natalie Pritts doubled in Morgan McElwain with a double to center.
Elliott appeared to get out of the inning when Morgan Bailey grounded to second but an error kept the inning alive. Logan Snyder then sent a pitch to the fence in center field that drove in two runs for a 3-0 lead.
“We just broke down defensively, and you can’t do that,” said Alderson.
“That first inning was huge,” said McCarty. “Even one run would have been huge. It sets the tone for things.”
Elliott only allowed one run over the next five innings – a run-scoring double by Pritts that made it 4-0 in the third – before the Bucs rallied in the sixth inning.
Christine Walsh led off the sixth with a walk and, one out later, Jessica Blumen caught Riverside by surprise by laying down a bunt. Barker fielded it and tossed it down the right field line for an error that put Blumen on second and Walsh on third. Sutton laced a double to center field that scored Blumen and Walsh and cut Riverside’s lead to 4-2.
Kesneck hit a liner to center field and Sutton broke on contact. Riverside center fielder Ashley Boehm made a nice running catch, then doubled Sutton off the base to end the inning. It was the third double play of the game for the Panthers.
Barker seemed to tire in the seventh. She walked Sabrina Stankus to open the inning and sent her to second on a wild pitch. When the next pitch rolled from catcher Morgan Bailey, Stankus broke for third but was thrown out. Kayla Alderson walked and was forced on a grounder by Elliott for the second out. Barker ended the game by striking out Jalynn Myers.
“We both have a lot of players back from last year but our batteries are different,” said Alderson. “Kayla practices (pitching) all the time. You never know when you’re going to get the call. I’m proud of the team, and I’m proud of Kayla.”