Belle Vernon rallies past Elizabeth Forward to win WPIAL Class 4A softball crown

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 | 4:34 PM

Belle Vernon’s Bailey Parshall felt the frustration begin to build as Elizabeth Forward’s first three batters reached base in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday.

Clinging to a one-run lead with a WPIAL championship on the line, Parshall faced the kind of test she avoided for much of her dominant career. But not even that pressure could wear her down.

Parshall wriggled out of the jam and sealed No. 4 Belle Vernon’s third WPIAL championship in four seasons with a 5-4, come-from-behind victory over Elizabeth Forward in the Class 4A title game at Seton Hill.

“That’s a really big type of situation,” said Parshall, a Penn State recruit. “I was getting frustrated at the end of the game (with) the strike zone, but my teammates picked me up, my coaches picked me up, and that’s what got me through the game. That’s what got us through the game.”

After Kailey Larcinese’s leadoff single and Anna Resnik’s double to the wall in right, Belle Vernon elected to intentionally walk Jordan Pinneri to load the bases with no outs.

Then Parshall came through: The southpaw struck out Brianna Sersevic looking and forced Larcinese at home after fielding a comebacker for the second out. The next batter, Kaylee Ludwick, lined a ball to left field, but freshman Vanessa Porter ran it down for the final out.

“Bases loaded, no outs? Come on,” Belle Vernon coach Tom Rodriguez said. “Can you imagine me out there? I’d have thrown four in the dirt.”

It was the second time in about 10 minutes the Leopards (21-3) came up clutch. The defending WPIAL champions were down to their final out — their final strike, actually — in the top of the seventh, but Mekenzie Sokol lined a two-run single on an 0-2 pitch to center field to complete a three-run rally and give Belle Vernon the lead for good.

“I thought she was going to throw me junk, but she threw it right down the middle,” said Sokol, who also drove in a run with a first-inning sacrifice fly. “I swung hard.

“I was nervous, but I knew I had to get her in. So I kept it cool and swung hard.”

Belle Vernon and Elizabeth Forward split their two Section 2-4A meetings during the season, a two-run EF victory early in the season and a one-run triumph by Belle Vernon in the rematch. Wednesday’s game seemed destined for another close finish and delivered on the promise.

No. 6 Elizabeth Forward (19-4) took a two-run lead into the final inning with its first WPIAL championship in sight, but it went for naught.

“(We) took them all the way to the end,” Elizabeth Forward coach Harry Rutherford said. “We load the bases in the last inning, just can’t push a run across. I’m very pleased with the effort. Starting four freshmen, that’s a good sign for the years to come for this team.”

Parshall allowed just one hit in Belle Vernon’s first three WPIAL playoff games, all shutouts, but Elizabeth Forward collected seven against her Wednesday. The Warriors scored three runs in the fourth inning, aided by three Leopards errors, to take a 3-1 lead.

After Parshall’s run-scoring groundout cut the lead to one run in the top of the fifth, EF answered with another unearned run in the bottom of the inning as Pinneri drove in Larcinese, who reached on a strikeout and passed ball.

Parshall allowed four runs — all unearned — on seven hits in seven innings, walking two and striking out 11.

Belle Vernon loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, all on walks. Kourtney Gavatorta drew a fourth walk to force in one run, but Larcinese struck Sopha Godzak out looking to bring up Sokol. Then Sokol delivered.

“We had them where we wanted them, to be honest,” Rutherford said. “We had the bottom three (up). We had two walks. It seemed like the umpire closed the zone on us. It looked like the glove wasn’t moving, and she wasn’t getting any calls. … We had to put the ball where the umpire wanted it, and they got the base hit.”

It was a familiar scenario for Belle Vernon in a WPIAL championship game: The Leopards rallied from a three-run seventh-inning deficit to beat Yough in 2015.

“Unbelievable,” Rodriguez said. “This was almost equal to that game.”

Belle Vernon will play District 56 champion Bellefonte in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Monday at a site and time to be determined. Elizabeth Forward will play District 9 champion Punxsutawney.

“It feels amazing,” Parshall said. “Not too many other teams can say they’ve won (three titles in four years), and I’ll be the first in our school that has ever done that. It’s a great feeling overall.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .

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