WEXFORD – Burgettstown head softball coach Mark Deer had heard plenty about Neshannock’s high-powered offense and ace pitcher, who threw a perfect game in its quarterfinal win over Vincentian Academy, but he remained optimistic the Blue Devils had a shot to advance to the Class A title game.
Then Deer witnessed firsthand how good the defending WPIAL champion Lancers really are.
After outscoring its opponents 19-4 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Blue Devils were baffled by Lancers pitcher Madison Shaffer’s five-inning, two-hit shutout and left reeling from her grand slam in the third inning as Neshannock defeated Burgettstown, 11-0, in a WPIAL Class A semifinal playoff game Thursday at North Allegheny High School.
“(Neshannock) showed me what they are made of,” Deer said. “I’ve always heard they have a good team, but I didn’t realize they were this good.”
Despite the loss, the Blue Devils (16-5) face Jefferson-Morgan (16-3) Tuesday at a site and time to be determined in the WPIAL consolation game with a spot in the PIAA playoffs on the line. Top-seeded Neshannock (15-2) advances to the WPIAL Class A title game next Thursday at California University where it will face South Side Beaver (16-3).
Burgettstown sophomore pitcher Kate Tarr held the Lancers scoreless for two innings before their offense made a statement in the top of the third. Neshannock loaded the bases with one out on a bunt since by Cassidy Burrelli.
On the fifth pitch of the following at-bat, Shaffer, a left-handed hitter, drilled a fastball over the right field fence and into the woods beyond the outfield. The Lancers added one more run in the inning to grab a 5-0 lead. Even Neshannock head coach Tracey Kimmel was surprised by the hit after Shaffer’s season was in doubt weeks ago because of a back injury.
“When you get a grand slam like that, it’s disheartening for the other team,” Kimmel said. “I firmly believe that if you allow four or five runs in a playoff game, it’s pretty much over. Man, did she smack that ball. I was afraid it would hook foul.”
Burgettstown shook off the early deficit in the bottom half of the inning by loading the bases with two outs. But Shaffer got third baseman Sami Scopel to pop up an inside fastball to first base to end the inning.
“All of my pitches have been working for me lately,” Shaffer said. “It hasn’t mattered if I throw my fastball, changeup or curve; all of them have looked great.”
Tarr, who has been dominant in the circle in her own right, struggled with location against Neshannock.
She allowed four straight hits to start the fourth inning, which led to another run for the Lancers. Morgan Ellek took over for Tarr, but defensive miscues failed Burgettstown.
Already trailing 6-0, Ellek allowed an RBI single to Shaffer, who went 2-for-4 with 5 RBI, and another run scored on a missed fly ball in the outfield and throwing error.
Neshannock scored six runs in the fourth inning on six runs and three errors by the Blue Devils.
“That third inning took all the air out of us,” Deer said. “I thought we’d get back into it when we loaded the bases, but we couldn’t get a hit. Our pitching wasn’t the greatest, our defense was horrible and our hitting stunk.”
Burgettstown freshman designated hitter Emily Wilson had both of the Blue Devils’ hits against Shaffer – singles in the third and seventh innings.
Shaffer induced a groundball after Wilson’s second hit to induce a double play and end the game.
“It’s not over yet,” Deer said. “We still have a chance to move on next week. We just have to forget about this one and move on.”