CALIFORNIA – Jefferson-Morgan’s softball program waited 31 years between playoff victories before beating Elderton in the first round in 2012.
So, waiting two weeks this year to play its first playoff game was not an issue for head coach Tony Barbetta and his players.
Sophomore shortstop Morgan Simkovic went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer and four RBI and junior Madison Ludrosky threw a complete game with 13 strikeouts as Jefferson-Morgan defeated Bishop Canevin, 9-1, in a WPIAL Class A quarterfinal game at California University’s Lilley Field.
The Rockets (16-2) advance to Thursday’s semifinals where they will face South Side Beaver (15-3), which defeated Carmichaels earlier Tuesday. It was Jefferson-Morgan’s first victory at Lilley Field after a five-game losing streak at the site.
“I wouldn’t even call the two weeks a break,” Barbetta said. “We played Burrell, Uniontown and Waynesburg in scrimmages and those are three solid playoff teams. This is my first time having a bye, so it was new to me.”
Easing the stress of a long layoff from meaningful game action was Simkovic. The right-hander hit a two-run homer in the top of the first inning to help stake the Rockets to an early 3-0 lead. She also added RBI singles in the fifth and seventh innings.
She scored two runs, added a stolen base and was just inches away from a second home run in her second at-bat. Bishop Canevin left fielder Dashia Reed caught the ball at the fence.
“I thought it would be close,” Simkovic said of the home run. “I was excited, but I was just trying to get a hit. This win means the world to us.”
It was the first run that Barbetta was most excited about. Junior catcher Reagan Rush led off the game with a double and senior third baseman Kirsten Stoneking followed with a perfectly placed bunt between the Crusaders’ pitcher and first baseman.
Rush sprinted toward third and without hesitating, Barbetta gave her the signal to go home for the first run of the game.
“I did my bunting magic in that first inning,” Barbetta joked. “I saw their infielders were playing deep and (Rush) is such a good base runner. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to send her. I wanted that early run.”
He did not have to wait long for another, as Simkovic hit the fifth pitch of the following at-bat over the left field wall. Ludrosky, who also went 5-for-5 with a RBI, took care of the rest.
The hard-throwing righty walked the first batter she faced in the first and second innings but allowed just five hits and one extra-base-hit.
“(Ludrosky) is a girl who doesn’t know how good she can be,” Barbetta said. “She can be amazing when she’s on like she was today. She’s wild, but she’s good wild.”
Ludrosky struck out nine of the next 22 batters she faced and Jefferson-Morgan added two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to take an 8-1 lead. Sophomore second baseman Cameryn Dugan hit an RBI single to right field in the fourth inning and another run scored on a wild pitch.
In the fifth, Simkovic and Ludrosky knocked in one run apiece to put the Crusaders away. Simkovic’s RBI - her fourth - in the seventh all but ended the game that was delayed a half hour by Carmichaels’ loss.
“It’s good to see (Carmichaels) lose, but it’s amazing to see us win that game,” Simkovic said. “It feels great. Last year, we were really young, but now we know the game more and it shows.”