Connellsville rallies from 5-run deficit to beat Shaler in Class 5A softball playoffs

Tuesday, May 18, 2021 | 9:00 PM

Having lost five of six to close the regular season, the Connellsville softball team entered the WPIAL playoffs without much momentum or swagger. But the Falcons picked the perfect time to snap out of their slump.

The 13th-seeded Falcons erased a five-run deficit, and Tagan Basinger delivered the winning hit in the seventh inning as Connellsville defeated fourth-seeded Shaler, 6-5, in a first-round Class 5A playoff game Tuesday afternoon at Norwin High School.

Connellsville coach John Burd, who guided the Falcons to the 2019 WPIAL Class 5A title game, was ecstatic over his team’s comeback victory.

“This is one of the biggest wins and one of the most satisfying,” John Burd said.

But early on, it looked as though the Falcons (10-8) would bow out of the playoffs quietly.

Shaler’s Bethany Rodman doubled in Megan Povich in the first inning to give the Titans a 1-0 lead. That lead swelled to 5-0 in the third as Shaler scored four more times.

Cate Gordon delivered a two-run double and Kayleigh Newland followed with an RBI single. Rodman also scored on a wild pitch as the Titans appeared to take control.

But during that inning, something changed for Connellsville.

Coach Burd elected to take out starting pitcher Jena Hixson in favor of Iris Burd. Although she did surrender a run in the third, it was clear Iris Burd was on her game. And after the third, she allowed just one hit and kept the Titans off the board in the final four innings.

“I thought Iris might be the girl for this game,” John Burd said. “She was keeping the ball down, and she has a lot of movement on the ball. I can’t say enough about her.”

Still, the Falcons had to find their offense, and they did so in a big way in the top of the fifth. Connellsville sent 10 hitters to the plate and scored five runs on five hits.

With one out, Arley Wilson got the rally started with a walk. Wilson swiped second and scored on an RBI single by Madison Kinneer to get the Falcons on the board.

Hixson then reached on a fielder’s choice before Abby King singled to load the bases. Then Ava McClean kept the Connellsville train moving with a clutch two-run single. And before the inning was over, Kirra Davis and Caitlin Jansen each delivered a key RBI single to tie the score, 5-5.

“Somebody gets a big hit and then they all just start believing,” John Burd said. “It just carried through, and it snowballed from there.”

After a scoreless sixth, the Falcons came up with some two-out magic in the seventh. After two groundouts to start the inning, Iris Burd set the offense in motion with a single. Jansen walked and Mallory Orndorff singled to load the bases. That’s when John Burd made the move of the game as he opted for Basinger in a pinch-hitting role.

And Basinger wasted no time as she drilled a single up the middle on the first pitch she saw, allowing pinch-runner Samantha Campbell to trot home with Connellsville’s sixth run. The Titans (11-5) recorded the final out of the inning on a play at the plate, but the damage by Basinger was already done.

“I talked with her about being ready,” John Burd said of Basinger. “It felt like the right time to make the move, and she is a good hitter.”

Now playing with the lead, the Falcons were able to get a Shaler strikeout, ground out and pop out to end the game.

“We had struggled, but they didn’t get down and they showed emotion,” John Burd said. “They just kept battling.”

The Falcons have earned the right to keep battling in the tournament, and they will play Chartiers Valley on Thursday in a quarterfinal at a time and location to be announced.

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