Armstrong wins rematch with Penn-Trafford to return to state championship game

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Monday, June 13, 2022 | 7:15 PM


Just think, these teams will be in the same section next year.

After their WPIAL championship thriller, Armstrong and Penn-Trafford met again in the PIAA Class 5A softball semifinals Monday.

The state final-four game didn’t quite live up to the late-inning drama of the last meeting — there was no walk-off home run by junior Jenna Clontz this time — but it was another one-run finish and it had the same winner.

Armstrong rallied to score three unanswered runs after the Warriors took an early lead and went on to a 3-2 victory before an estimated crowd of 440 at Mars Centennial School field.

The River Hawks (23-4), who won the first WPIAL title in any sport in school history, are back in the PIAA title game for the second year in a row, looking to change last year’s runner-up outcome.

Penn-Trafford is finished at 20-4 after the two-game playoff sweep by their future section rival.

The Warriors, who won the state title in 2019, were hoping for a second trip to Penn State in three seasons.

“It’s been our motto since Game 1,” Armstrong coach Doug Flanders said. “Turn silver into gold. We’ve taken on that mindset and the girls are determined to win it all.”

Penn-Trafford led 2-0 after the first inning after seniors Hannah Allen and Mia Smith knocked in runs with singles, Smith’s on an infield hit.

Armstrong tied it in the fourth as WPIAL final hero Clontz and sophomore Shelby Cloak singled, Cloak on an infield hit, and junior Isabella Atherton ripped a two-run double with the bases loaded and two outs to make it 2-2.

Smith, who struck out five and allowed 10 hits, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the third.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth that Clontz finally took her deep. The junior drove one to the left-field fence, nearly out of the park, but settled on a double.

Smith did not allow a home run, but the River Hawks didn’t need one this time.

“Bella had a big, two-run single. That was big,” Flanders said. “Penn-Trafford is a great team. But you could see the first time through the order, we started to make some cracks and start to break them down. Jenna got us going and Jesse came through there.”

The next hitter, sophomore Jesse Pugh, cracked a single to right, scoring Clontz for a 3-2 lead.

“We had to readjust and be patient,” Flanders said. “We respect Penn-Trafford a ton. They’re a great team with a great pitcher. Our girls just find a way.”

With the power alleys closed, Armstrong had to rely on bunts at times to move runners over and optimize offense. Seven of their hits were infield singles.

The River Hawks were averaging nearly 11 runs per game.

“This was such a hard game to win,” Pugh said. “Mia is a great pitcher. There is more than one way to score runs. There was a lot of adapting. You can win by blasting home runs or you have to play small ball. We’re a (balanced) team.”

Penn-Trafford, which had one extra-base hit, left nine on base.

“I don’t think they adjusted to Mia. She was great today,” Warriors coach Denny Little said. “I thought she did her job. We held them to the least runs they’ve scored all year. We just didn’t take advantage of some opportunities. Hats off to Armstrong. I told them, bring it home.”

Little said his team needed to better produce offensively.

“I said it was going to take at least five to beat them,” he said. “We needed to score more.”

Flanders said his junior pitcher, Camryn Sprankle, was his player of the game.

Sprankle surrendered eight hits but held the Warriors at bay in the sixth after freshmen pinch-hitters Rilie Moors (single) and Lorryn Sepe (walk) reached base.

She allowed a seventh-inning double to freshman Cam Ponko, who launched a near-home run just foul in her at-bat, but induced a pair of groundouts to end it with Ponko, the tying run, stuck at third.

“Cam was so tough today; this was her best game,” Flanders said. “She hurt her ankle running to first earlier in the game but stayed in the game. There was no way she was coming out of that game. She told me that.”

Said Sprankle: “I trusted myself and took it one inning at a time.”

Junior Emma Smerick went 3 for 3, and Clontz, Cloak and Atheron all were 2 for 3.

Sophomore Mack Keenan and Allen had two hits apiece for Penn-Trafford, which turned a double play in the fifth.

Smith, who took a line drive by Smerick off her body to start the fifth, saw a terrific senior season come to a close. The 20-game winner won a state title in ‘19 as a freshman.

The Pitt-Johnstown commit struck out five and walked two in her final high school game.

The Warriors will lose four seniors.

“This is the toughest group I’ve had,” Little said. “They fought to the bitter end. I am going to miss these seniors.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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