Defensive web gems lift Hempfield past Warwick in PIAA 1st round

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Monday, June 4, 2018 | 8:36 PM


A productive offense can sometimes lead to crisp defense when teams are able to play with leads in the softball postseason.

It's a confidence thing.

But in the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A playoffs, Hempfield flipped the script. Terrific defense led to some big offense and helped the Spartans advance to the quarterfinals.

A number of web gems over the first five innings preceded a six-run outburst in the sixth as four-time defending WPIAL champion Hempfield downed District 3 third-place team Warwick, 7-0, on Monday evening at Latrobe's Graham-Sobota Field.

It was step one of four for Hempfield, which is eyeing a third consecutive state title.

“We have to win with our defense because there is nothing is guaranteed with our offense; it's sporadic,” Spartans coach Bob Kalp said. “Our defense does this all the time. We put a lot of focus on that part of the game. Our girls made some great plays.”

Laura Fox and Margaret Monzo each had two hits, and Kelsey Tobin, Olivia Persin and Jessica Persin each had two RBIs for the Spartans (21-3), who will play Baldwin (13-5) on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

To that sparkling defense:

Already up 1-0 in the second — Fox doubled and scored on a wild pitch — Hempfield started the hit-swallowing effort with a pickoff throw to first by freshman catcher Emma Hoffner.

“We kept working hard, and we knew we'd hit them sooner or later,” Hoffner said. “We had to lay off the high pitches.”

With the Spartans struggling to get their timing down against tricky Warwick left-hander Amanda Herr, a St. Joseph recruit, the lead stayed 1-0 into the fourth when Warwick's Danielle Jones lined a single to right.

Tobin, though, fielded the ball on a hop and delivered a laser-beam throw to second to get lead base runner. Two batters later, Warwick, in the state playoffs for the first time in eight years, got caught in a rundown and that rally was dashed.

“It's great to have a sharp defense like that,” Tobin said. “It really got us going today.”

In the fifth with a runner at first, Warwick fell victim to Hoffner's talents as the St. Francis (Pa.) commit stood up, snared a chopper just in front of the plate, and zinged a strike to second for a 2-6-3 double play. Again, no damage done.

Warwick threatened again in the sixth, nearly benefiting from an overturned call at first. Despite a walk to put runners at first and second, Hempfield sidestepped the Warriors again: Uschock froze Jones with one of her trademark changeups for an inning-ending strikeout.

After wasting a triple by Monzo and a double by Uschock, Hempfield finally widened the gap in the sixth.

It began with a bunt single by Monzo, which was followed by a trio of two-RBI hits. Tobin brought in a pair with a single, and pinch-hitter Jessica Persin — who delivered the winning hit in a 2-1 WPIAL championship game win over Latrobe in 10 innings — ripped a two-run double to make it 5-0 with one out.

Her sister, Olivia Persin, then followed with a two-run triple to put Hempfield comfortably in control.

Two wild pitches in the inning helped move Spartans into scoring position.

“It took us some time to get used to their pitcher,” Tobin said. “We were used to cranking up the (pitching) machine for Latrobe's pitchers. We calmed down and jumped on them.”

Hempfield has won 21 straight playoff games.

“I can tell these girls want to continue on,” Kalp said. “Sometimes you get this late in the year and they want to pack it in. Not this group. Who knows from here?”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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