Armstrong’s early offensive outburst too much for Latrobe to overcome in PIAA softball playoffs

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Monday, June 3, 2024 | 7:49 PM


Calise Czekanski brings a boombox to the field so she and her Armstrong softball teammates can listen to music and get pumped up before every game.

“They love their music, and they love it loud,” Armstrong coach Keith Shaffer said. “I know sometimes it irritates opponents, but our girls certainly love it.”

The River Hawks like to play the hits once the game starts as well.

Armstrong batted around in each of the first two innings to build a comfortable lead on its way to a 13-2 victory over Latrobe in five innings Monday in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A playoffs.

The WPIAL champion River Hawks advanced to play District 6 champ Central Mountain in the PIAA quarterfinals Thursday at a site and time to be announced.

Armstrong (19-3) defeated Latrobe (11-13) twice in the regular season — 6-1 on April 9, and 8-2 on April 22 — and used a seven-run first inning to take command of the third meeting.

Emma Paul walked, Natalie Zeigler reached on an error and Shelby Cloak walked to load the bases with no outs. Jessie Pugh followed with an RBI single.

Zeigler scored on a wild pitch, then Abby Bauer hit an RBI single that scored Cloak. Jordyn Klingensmith added an RBI single, Lily Gutherie smacked an RBI double to left field, and Paul came up again and hit an RBI single.

In total, there were 10 batters for the River Hawks in the first inning.

“We’ve kind of been waiting on that big inning to begin the game all year,” Shaffer said. “The girls just came out and hit the ball well in the first two innings. I can’t say enough good things about the girls. Sometimes you have that WPIAL hangover, but that definitely wasn’t a concern today.”

The River Hawks loaded the bases again with no outs in the second and ended up scoring five runs. Bauer brought in a run on a fielder’s choice.

Isabel Prazenica hit a sacrifice fly to center field, and Madison Baker hit a two-run double. Nine players batted for the River Hawks in the second.

“They’re the best hitting team around that I know of, especially with two strikes,” Latrobe coach Bob Kovalcin said. “They’re good girls, and they’re well coached. Congrats to them for being WPIAL champs. They might as well go out and be state champs, too.”

Bauer added an RBI single in the third. All nine starters reached base at least once for the River Hawks. Cloak, Pugh, Klingensmith and Gutherie reached base three times each.

Macie McHugh doubled to lead off the second for Latrobe and was brought home on a double by Sara Blossey. Miley Williams had two singles and a run scored for the Wildcats. Kayla Williams, Corrine Wright and Blossey reached base twice each.

Monday marked the Wildcats’ first state playoff appearance since 2018, and they will look to build off it with six of their 10 starters returning next season.

“This is a learning experience being in the state playoffs, because they are not used to it,” Kovalcin said. “We have some girls that aren’t here because they went on vacation. They walked away, and that was their choice. I treat them like adults, and they had to do what they had to do.

“The rest that stayed worked hard and tried, but we just came up short. It was not a great day defensively for us. We hit the ball off (Madison) Baker a bit, but then they brought in (Rachel Ban) and we didn’t have a chance to adapt to her.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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