8th-inning homer off Seneca Valley ace lifts Hempfield to WPIAL 6A softball championship

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 | 10:35 PM

Hempfield brought in a pitching machine recently to simulate the speed of Seneca Valley pitcher Lexie Hames.

The Spartans had it cranked up to 70-plus mph.

Mia Bandieramonte was up to speed.

The senior designated player and No. 9 hitter turned on a Hames pitch and launched it over the left-field fence in the top of the eighth inning as second-seeded Hempfield edged No. 1 Seneca Valley, 2-1, in the WPIAL Class 6A softball championship game Wednesday night at Cal (Pa.)’s Lilley Field.

The title is the eighth for Hempfield (18-3) and its first since 2019.

“I was thinking hit for contact, but I hit it and it went over,” said Bandieramonte, the only senior in the starting nine. “That machine was so helpful. We got our timing down, and it helped our confidence.”

Defending champion Seneca Valley (17-2) rallied to force extra innings but could not retaliate in the bottom of the eighth after Bandieramonte’s homer.

“That Hack-attack machine worked,” said Hempfield coach Tina Madison, who also won a WPIAL title as a player in 1998. “You could see early on the timing was there.”

The Spartans intentionally walked Hames, who also is a standout hitter, for a fourth time with two outs in the eighth, and Bella Gross sent a drive to deep right.

But Maggie Howard made the catch to end it and send the Spartans into a dust-filled celebration after a game that started about three hours later than it was supposed to due to two lengthy games beforehand.

Riley Miller went pitch for pitch with Hames. She allowed four hits and struck out 11, while Hames surrendered three hits and fanned nine.

“We wanted to make someone else beat us, not Lexie,” Madison said. “Lexie is a great player.”

Hempfield struck out 30 times in two regular-season games against Hames, the Raiders’ sophomore fireballer and Division I prospect.

Getting on the board early gave the Spartans the confidence they lacked in a 3-0 loss to the Raiders late in the season.

The Spartans had 18 Ks in that game.

Hempfield struck first, much to the Raiders’ surprise.

After an infield single by Lauren Howard, Peyton Heisler caught the Raiders off guard with a sacrifice bunt.

Emily Griffith stepped in next and hit a grounder to second base. But Emry Rice couldn’t field it, and Howard raced home for a 1-0 lead.

“For three days, we used that machine to bunt two buckets of balls,” Heisler said. “We knew we would have to play small ball to win.”

The Raiders finally tied it in the bottom of the sixth. Kara Pasquale, who had two hits, singled and moved to second on a fielder’s choice.

After Lexie Hames was intentionally walked for a third straight time, Bella Gross roped a single down the third-base line to knock in courtesy runner Morgan Dunn to make it 1-1.

“I was anxious and nervous all day,” Miller said. “I felt good when the game got going. We knew good things could happen if we put the bat on the ball.”

Both teams got a baserunner to second in the seventh but could not score.

Allie Cervola singled and stole second but was left stranded for the Spartans.

Pinch-hitter Kylie Staudt doubled off Miller with one out in the seventh, but a groundout and Miller’s strikeout ended the threat.

Hempfield moves on to a first-round PIAA playoff game Monday, while the Raiders’ season is finished.

“It went their way and didn’t go ours,” Seneca Valley coach Marlesse Hames said. “Lexie wasn’t hitting her spots, and Hempfield hit the ball.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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