Armstrong caps comeback win over Penn-Trafford with walk-off homer by Emma Paul

Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | 8:28 PM

When the WPIAL Class 5A softball semifinal between top-seeded Armstrong and No. 4 Penn-Trafford reached extra innings Wednesday afternoon, it was time for a hero to emerge.

Emma Paul was happy to play the role.

Paul belted a 1-0 fastball over the right-field fence in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the River Hawks an 8-6 comeback victory at Gateway.

Armstrong (17-3) will face Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL finals May 30 or 31 at Lilley Field on the campus of Cal (Pa.).

“It was great,” Paul said. “It was amazing.”

Armstrong rallied to force extra innings after trailing 6-1 in the middle of the fourth inning.

“I’ll tell you, the team all year, I mean, they just never say die. I mean, they just don’t. They never give up,” Armstrong coach Keith Shaffer said emphatically.

Although Armstrong had to come back, cleanup hitter Jessie Pugh started the game with an RBI double to straightaway center field in the bottom of the first.

In the next inning, a controversial call occurred when Penn-Trafford’s Guliana Youngo grounded to first, and after Pugh tagged the runner and the base, the umpire called only one out on the force play.

The call, which was not popular with the Armstrong faithful, was followed by a two-run homer by Bella Rubbe to give Penn-Trafford a 2-1 lead.

After the home run by Rubbe, things got away from Armstrong starter Madison Baker.

A scoreless third inning for both teams was followed by quite the opposite in the fourth, especially the Warriors.

Rubbe struck again with her second two-run home run of the game. Penn Trafford (14-6) opened its lead even more with two more RBI hits by Lorryn Sepe and Kylie Anthony. Baker was then replaced by reliever Rachel Ban.

“You know, we just had to take good swings,” Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little said.

It was as if a light switch turned on for Armstrong when Ban came in. That light stayed on for quite some time as she also helped the River Hawks at the plate with a key two-run single in the bottom of the fourth.

The hot hitting continued for the River Hawks as Pugh’s RBI single and Isabel Prazencia’s sacrifice fly made it a one-run game at the end of the fifth inning.

Ban added a key RBI groundout in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score for Armstrong and force extra innings.

Shaffer had high praise for the Warriors, who the River Hawks also walked off in the WPIAL championship game two years earlier.

“They’re one of the best programs around,” he said. “They have been for a long time.”

Penn-Trafford has already qualified for the state playoffs. The Warriors will meet Latrobe in the third-place game next week to determine their seeding.

They’re looking forward to the opportunity.

“We did it before,” Little said. “We’ve lost a semifinal game and came back in ’19 and won the state (title).”

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