Feeling blue: Leechburg softball dyes hair in bonding experience

Sunday, May 27, 2018 | 11:00 PM

Kristen Knapp enjoys dying her hair, and inspiration recently caused the Leechburg catcher to consider adding some blue streaks as part of the Blue Devils' WPIAL playoff run.

Her teammates' reaction when she brought up the idea?

“Heck yeah, let's do it,” Knapp recounted.

So in an example of team bonding, the majority of Leechburg's roster gathered to add some color to their hair, with a couple exceptions — “I can kind of see why (some parents) wouldn't want their kids to have blue hair,” Knapp said — the first time they had done such a teamwide activity.

The “heck yeah” response is indicative of Leechburg's “can-do attitude” throughout the season, one that has carried the Blue Devils to the cusp of the PIAA tournament.

A win Tuesday over Union in the Class A consolation game at Hampton Community Park would give the Blue Devils third place in the WPIAL and a corresponding state playoff berth, their first since 2009.

“I know that it was really sad knowing that we could have gone to the championships, but knowing that we tried our hardest and knowing that was the best game our coaches had ever seen, it was just such an amazing game,” said Knapp, a junior, a day after Leechburg's 5-2 walkoff loss to Monessen in the WPIAL semifinals Wednesday. “It was even a great ride home instead of everyone sad, sitting in their seats.”

No. 3 Leechburg (13-5) put up a fight against Monessen in the semifinals, batting the second-seeded Greyhounds to a standstill through six-and-a-half innings before Monessen's Hannah Yorty hit a three-run walkoff homer in the seventh. Blue Devils pitcher Morgan Pierce matched her Monessen counterpart, Robert Morris recruit Dana Vakatis, and her teammates scratched two runs across to take a brief lead.

That the game ultimately ended in a loss didn't sink Leechburg's spirits.

“I wouldn't say (there was) disappointment,” Pierce said. “We put a lot of effort out there, and we showed that we can hang with any team. It just comes down to luck in what happens. You could be a little disappointed, but at the same time, you can't be disappointed with that game. That game was awesome.”

It helped Leechburg to know it still had at least one game remaining and a PIAA tournament berth remained a possibility.

“(Thursday) at practice, we all came in with a can-do attitude,” Knapp said. “That's been the whole season, kind of. We actually were really confident, really talking. Even though we really didn't have any problems (Wednesday), just like a few errors we couldn't help … we all came in saying we can do this. We all just picked each other back up. There was really no sad talking.”

Leechburg is in a familiar position, as the Blue Devils played in the consolation game last season but lost to Carmichaels.

“This year has been just so much more intense than last year,” Knapp said. “Last year, it was like, ‘OK, we did good.' But this year, since we have our pitcher graduating, everyone's just in it to win it. We want to get third.”

Although Leechburg starts three freshmen, the bulk of the Blue Devils' lineup played in last season's consolation game. Meanwhile, Union (16-3) is making the deepest run in its history.

The experience and motivation factors — Pierce, Hannah Berry and Daesha Knight are Leechburg's graduating seniors — have the Blue Devils confident they can get to the state playoffs if they play a clean game Tuesday.

“This is the time to do it,” Pierce said. “Us three (seniors) are so focused and so driven. Not even just us. Our team is so happy and uplifting, so driven to do stuff that we haven't done before. We're ready to conquer those new challenges. It's not going to be easy, but it's not going to be hard at the same time.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.


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