Elizabeth Forward avenges WPIAL playoff loss, stops Belle Vernon in PIAA quarters

Thursday, June 8, 2023 | 9:51 PM

Elizabeth Forward restored the balance of power in its softball rivalry with Belle Vernon, and catcher Alivia Grimm restored confidence in her swing as the Warriors moved on in the state playoffs.

Grimm, a sophomore, came up clutch in the seventh inning with a game-changing hit and followed with a critical putout as the Warriors crept past the Leopards, 4-3, in a slow-cooker of a PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal Thursday at Hempfield’s Robert D. Kalp Field.

The teams played four times this season. Elizabeth Forward (20-1) gladly will take three out of four from the Leopards (18-5).

And Grimm will take a 2 for 4 day at the plate for the Warriors, who move on to play WPIAL runner-up Montour (17-4) on Monday in the semifinals. It will be their second state final four trip in four years.

“I was in a slump and needed to get the ball down,” Grimm said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game, but it was a clean slate and knew we could come through.”

Grimm cracked a two-out, two-run double to deep center in the top of the seventh to give Elizabeth Forward a 4-3 lead after the WPIAL champion Leopards rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 advantage in the fifth.

In the bottom of the seventh, with a runner at second after a walk and a passed ball, Grimm made a diving catch in foul territory of junior Gracie Sokol’s popup, negotiating a tight backstop behind the plate, for the first out.

“(Grimm) didn’t do too well in her first two (plate) trips,” Warriors coach Harry Rutherford said. “She protected against that inside pitch and came through with a big hit. This was her day. Not many catchers make that play.”

After Grimm’s catch, the Warriors intentionally walked senior Maren Metikosh, and junior ace pitcher Shelby Telegdy forced a pair of flyouts to end it.

The seventh inning was nearly identical for both teams, but Elizabeth Forward got the big hit and the Leopards did not.

Instead of a walk-off and its second straight win against the Warriors, Belle Vernon’s thrilling season ended.

“We had six hits, and that isn’t going to win many games,” Belle Vernon coach Tom Rodriguez said. “I put the winning run on base. I didn’t want (Telegdy) to beat us.

“We had a runner at second and no outs. We had a chance.”

Belle Vernon finally solved the Warriors in the WPIAL semifinals, winning 10-1 in five innings after losing eight in a row to them.

Had they made it two in a row against their Mon Valley rivals, the Leopards would be going to the PIAA semis for the first time since 2008.

“We expected it to be a one-run game,” Rutherford said. “Fortunately, it went our way. Last time, we got shellacked.”

After a sacrifice fly by Sokol knocked in the Leopards’ first run in the fifth, sophomore Mia Zubovic smacked a two-out, two-run single to put the Leopards ahead 3-2.

The rally was started with a bunt single by sophomore Katie Sokol and two walks.

Junior pitcher Talia Ross, who went the distance for the Leopards, worked out of another jam in the sixth, leaving two stranded after back-to-back strikeouts.

Ross wiggled out of a bases-loaded situation in the second. But Grimm made sure the Warriors sustained momentum in the decisive seventh when she sent a 1-2 pitch to right center, to the base of the fence, to put the Warriors ahead to stay.

Both pitchers had two hits.

Elizabeth Forward’s other runs came on hits from Telegdy, who helped herself in a complete-game win.

She provided an RBI single in the third, then launched a solo homer, her sixth blast of the season, to left center in the fifth.

Freshman Julia Resnick doubled and scored for the Warriors.

Telegdy also worked out of trouble. Belle Vernon left runners at second and third in the first inning and first and second in the third after a sliding catch by junior right fielder Carlee Soukup.

Telegdy allowed six hits, walked five and struck out three.

“To win the WPIAL was huge for thee girls,” Rodriguez said. “The seniors, I feel bad for them. But we have some girls going to play in college. It’s a good group.”

Rodriguez, who has more than 300 wins and five WPIAL titles but has never made the state finals, was asked if he will return for a 22nd season.

“You know I will,” he said. “Someone asked me if we’ll ever see another pitcher like Bailey Parshall come through here. I said, ‘Sure, maybe on my 130th birthday.’ ”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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