Bethel Park weathers early storm, drops Pine-Richland in Class 6A softball semifinals

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 | 10:20 PM

Through the first three batters of the game, it appeared as if unbeaten Bethel Park was in for a rare test.

But that storm — like the literal one that hit midway through the third inning — came and went quickly.

The top-seeded Black Hawks (17-0) combined a stellar pitching performance with timely hitting to top No. 5 Pine-Richland, 9-0, in a WPIAL Class 6A semifinal at West Mifflin.

Bethel Park will next play Section 1-6A foe Canon-McMillan in next week’s title game.

The Rams (9-9), coming off their first playoff win in over two decades, were able to put the first three batters on base with a trio of infield singles.

But, with the bases loaded, Black Hawks pitcher Delaney Nagy induced a pop-up of Pine-Richland’s Mackenzie Gillis to Bethel Park shortstop Reagan Milliken, who turned and fired the ball to the plate to put out Rams leadoff hitter Natalie Zentz as she attempted to tag up.

“That was huge, with the bases loaded, getting those three outs,” Bethel Park coach Heather Semplice-Scott said. “I’m a pretty relaxed person. The way we’ve been playing all year — we haven’t been down a lot — if they would have scored, I know this team would’ve bounced back.”

That wasn’t necessary with Nagy in the circle. The senior UConn commit retired the next seven batters she faced before strong winds and heavy rain caused a 32-minute delay. When play resumed, she sat down the next seven in order.

“When we played Mt. Lebanon (in last week’s quarterfinals), we scored two early and had a much different mindset,” said Rams coach Gary Shepard. “They’re a good team, and if you don’t get a few runs initially, it’s tough. They just kind of chip away at you.”

Bethel Park, using its five Division 1 recruits, did just that. Georgetown commit Gianna Sciullo had a pair of run-scoring singles in the first three innings, helping Bethel Park build a 3-0 lead.

Two innings later, Seton Hall recruit Lauren Caye made it 4-0 with a base hit. Three batters after Caye, Sandra Soltes crushed a two-run home run over the left field fence.

“I just went up there knowing that I needed to produce,” said Soltes, a junior catcher committed to Pitt. “I saw one low and inside, which is always my go-to pitch, and it just went.“

Bethel Park added three more runs in the sixth inning thanks, in part, to RBI singles from Caye and Milliken, an Ohio State recruit.

For a while, Pine-Richland pitcher Gabbi Aughton kept the Rams in the game. The Boston College commit struck out eleven batters, including six straight at one point.

But she was unable to match Nagy.

“Me and (Nagy), we have such great chemistry,” said Soltes, who is allowed to call the game from behind the plate. “Her changeup is so consistent, so I can have her throw that any time.”

Pine-Richland’s season came to an end, as only two teams in Class 6A qualify for the PIAA postseason. But the semifinal appearance has set a new standard for a program with little recent history of success.

“It’s good for the future,” Shepard said. “We have a lot of good kids in middle school, so I think the program is on the rise, and hopefully we can take this into next year and years to come.”

Bethel Park will look to sweep Canon-McMillan this season. The Blackhawks beat the Big Macs 18-4 and 9-5 in two regular season meetings.

“It’s tough (to beat a team three times),” Semplice-Scott said. “I know they struggled a little bit, but that coaching staff has made some changes and they’ve gotten their team ready to go.

“Our goal was to win the section, make the championship, and then to win it.”

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