Belle Vernon uses pitching, defense, timely hits to get past West Mifflin

Wednesday, May 17, 2023 | 10:20 PM

Good pitching, good defense and timely hits. Those are the keys to victory for Belle Vernon softball coach Tom Rodriguez.

The Leopards got all three Wednesday night and used them to advance to the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals thanks to a 2-1 win over No. 5 seed West Mifflin at Boyce-Mayview Park in Upper St. Clair.

Great pitching came from senior Olivia Kolowitz, who threw a complete game four-hitter and struck out nine, as she silenced the heavy-hitting Titans (13-5).

“Olivia was great. Her curveball was on tonight and I swear that thing breaks about a foot,” Rodriguez said using his hands as a measuring stick. “I wasn’t sure I was going to throw her tonight because last year she pitched and we beat them. Then the second time we played them, we beat them, but they hit Olivia hard and we brought Talia in. So I wasn’t quite sure what to do today.”

He made the right choice Wednesday.

Kolowitz had little issue with the West Mifflin lineup, giving up two of those hits in the third inning, the same frame she allowed the only run on a nice slap-double through the infield by Trinity Tewell.

“We practiced that yesterday. I guess we didn’t practice it enough. It’s also something we didn’t see a lot this year,” Rodriguez said. “Katie (Sokol) just needs to stay home there and Gracie (Sokol) needs to break a little later. We’ll keep practicing it.”

The No. 4-seeded Leopards (16-4) got on the board first and took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Ava Zubovic hammered a triple to the wall in the left-center field gap and came in to score on a Kolowitz ground out. It was great baserunning, waiting for Titans third baseman Rylie Dobnak to make her throw then racing home.

“Liv didn’t try to do too much there. That was the key,” Rodriguez said.

After the Titans tied it up in the top of the third, they had a chance to go ahead in the top of the fifth after Aubrey Jaskulski was hit by a pitch.

She moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tewell, but on the next pitch, attempted to steal third. Mia Zubovic threw to her sister Ava covering the bag from her shortstop position and ran Jaskulski back to second, where center fielder Maren Metikosh was positioned for a rundown. The putout went 2-6-8.

Two pitches later, Titans leadoff hitter Kaleigh Tatters struck out looking to end the threat.

“That was a huge play for us and gave us a big lift,” Rodriguez said. “That was a great job by Maren. It’s a Division I softball player knowing the game and where she needed to be for the out. Great defense there.”

The Leopards kept the momentum going after the big defensive play and swung the game in their favor in their half of the inning.

Sokol led off the frame with a rocket over the head of Titans left fielder Tewell for a double. After Addie Hilligsberg got Metikosh to fly out to shallow center and struck out Mia Zubovic, Lauren VanDivner ripped a hard single up the middle on a 1-2 count to drive in Sokol with the eventual game-winning run.

“I’ll tell you what, for only being a sophomore, Lauren is a player I can count on to get me a quality at-bat and hit the ball hard. I think her and Maren have struck out the least amount of times,” Rodriguez said. “That was a big spot for her to come up and deliver.”

Kolowitz stranded another Titans’ runner in the top of the sixth after a one-out single by Hilligsberg, then sat the Titans down in order in the bottom of the seventh to end the game. The last two outs came via strikeout.

Both Zubovic sisters and VanDivner finished with two hits each to lead the Leopards’ offense.

Caleigh Ignat added a double for West Mifflin.

“Since the start of the season, I really started trusting myself and my pitches a lot more,” Kolowitz said of her resurgence in the circle. “I’ve learned to be OK missing off the plate and making sure I’m not missing on it.

“Everything I was throwing was working pretty good, and I’m really thankful for the way my defense played behind me. We overcame our mistakes and rebounded.”

With the win, the Leopards advance to face No. 1 seed Elizabeth Forward for the third time this season.

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