Expect offensive outburst when Armstrong, Penn-Trafford clash for WPIAL 5A title

Wednesday, June 1, 2022 | 7:25 PM

Offense could be on full blast when Penn-Trafford and Armstrong meet Friday ( game was postponed Thursday due to weather) in the WPIAL Class 5A softball championship.

So could the volume coming from at least one of the dugouts.

“If you think you’re going to see a shutout, you’re crazy,” Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little said. “The WPIAL seedings nailed this one.”

Oddsmakers would probably advise to take the over in this matchup of teams seeking their first WPIAL title. Runs are expected to be plentiful.

Top-seeded Armstrong (19-4) has scored 255 runs — 11.1 per game — and has eight players batting .400 or better.

The River Hawks can mash the softball and have an offense geared toward gap-to-gap power. They were the WPIAL and PIAA runners-up last season.

They have 32 home runs.

“We know we have to score runs and minimize their scoring,” Little said. “They have a lot of hoopla. They have the cow bells and the high energy. They’re going to try to knock us off. We have to stick to who we are and be ourselves. We can’t try to out-scream them.”

No offensive slouch, Penn-Trafford averages 7.1 runs and bats .375 as a team with 54 extra-base hits.

“Penn-Trafford has a winning tradition,” Armstrong coach Doug Flanders said. “They are well-coached and have lots of talent. It’s fun to see the top two seeds playing for the title. We have both been at or near the top of the rankings all season.”

Penn-Trafford is led by senior pitcher Mia Smith, who is 17-1 with a 0.98 ERA and 176 strikeouts.

“We are battle-tested,” Flanders said. “We faced top pitchers from Hempfield, Pine-Richland and Neshannock. I believe Mia is similar.”

The Warriors’ top hitters include freshman Cam Ponko (.491), sophomore Mackenzie Keenan (.481), senior Hannah Allen (5 HR, 21 RBIs) and junior Kylee Piconi (22 runs).

The Rapp sisters, seniors Maddy and McKenzie, and junior Alexa Forsythe, are Geneva commits.

Allen will play at Washington & Jefferson.

Junior Emma Smerick has a .513 batting average to pace the River Hawks and also has 29 runs scored and 26 RBIs. Sophomore Emma Paul (.456, 26 runs), senior Mackenizie Egley (.424, 19 RBIs), sophomore Jesse Pugh (.422, 9 HR, 33 RBIs) and junior Jenna Clontz (23 RBIs, 29 runs) are other offensive threats for Armstrong.

Egley is a Carlow commit, while Clontz is headed to Gannon, and senior Nichole Benvenuti is an IUP recruit.

Smerick, junior Isabella Atherton and Sprankle are getting college looks.

Armstrong lost to North Hills in last year’s WPIAL final, 12-2.

“We know what to expect now,” Flanders said. “Our confidence and resiliency will hopefully lead us to the titles.”

Little occasionally sees some similarities, he said, between this team and the 2019 state title team.

The 2020 team could have been the best of the bunch, but covid wiped out the season. The ‘22 team is a fine contender in itself.

“It’s our great pitching and good hitting against their great hitting and good pitching,” Little said. “Whoever performs better that day is going to win it all.”

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

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