Four softball teams from Section 1-5A competing for 2 playoff spots

Monday, May 7, 2018 | 6:51 PM

Her team began the final week of the regular season with a WPIAL softball playoff spot uncertain and only one game left to secure it, but Kiski Area's Maggie Jones wasn't sweating.

In fact, she actually — preferred? — the Cavaliers' position.

With a four-way tie for third place in Section 1-5A between Gateway (7-6, 7-8), Greensburg Salem (8-8, 7-6), Kiski Area (9-6, 7-6) and Plum (8-7, 7-6), those teams face what amounts to a playoff game before the postseason begins.

Win, and they're in to the playoff field. Lose, and they'll need some help.

“I think it's a good opportunity for us to have, to treat it like a playoff game,” Jones said. “Knowing that if we win this, we advance, and if you lose, you don't advance. That's exactly what the WPIAL softball playoffs are.”

The top four teams from each section, plus ties that can't be broken, advance to the WPIAL playoffs. Gateway swept Greensburg Salem but split with Kiski Area and Plum. Greensburg Salem, Kiski Area and Plum all split their meetings with each other.

“There's probably one team that won't get in that I think is a playoff team, which is just unfortunate,” Jones said. “I'm thankful that they take four teams. Normally, you'll see teams with losing records make the playoffs. This year, at least with our section, we're going to be turning down teams with winning records.”

That more than anything defines the section, a tightly packed group of teams that played closely contested games for much of the season. Unexpected wins — and losses — created the cluster of teams still alive for the final two playoff spots behind Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford, which already clinched.

“You never know who's going to win and who's going to lose,” Plum coach Jim McGrath said. “Teams I expected to beat beat us, and vice versa. You never know.”

To make the season's final day even more exciting, none of the tied teams play each other. Greensburg Salem visits Penn-Trafford, Kiski Area travels to Armstrong, Plum visits Franklin Regional and Gateway hosts Woodland Hills.

“We're kind of concerned about it,” McGrath said. “I know the girls are real anxious to play Franklin Regional. We always have real competitive games with them. They're a good team, and I think we're a good team. But you just don't know what's going to happen.”

Perhaps one benefit to the competitive section, Jones said, is it will prepare the teams for the grind of the postseason. The Cavaliers last season made the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and Jones said they maybe weren't ready.

That won't be an issue this season. Kiski Area has won six of its past seven games to reach the cusp of the playoffs.

In a similar example, the Deer Lakes baseball team needed a strong stretch run to make the playoffs after beginning the section schedule 1-3. Playing on five consecutive days last week, the Lancers won three of the games and clinched their spot with a 12-2 victory over Highlands on Friday.

“I kept telling the guys that as long as we get in, we're scary,” Deer Lakes coach Josh Tysk said. “We can beat anybody, and we can play with anybody. … Those little things are going to make the difference come playoff time, and we're catching fire.”

That's something Jones, McGrath and their counterparts at Gateway and Greensburg Salem hope to see out of their teams.

“Good teams thrive in pressure situations and are able to persevere,” Jones said. “You don't get tested a lot in those situations. For us to have this opportunity to treat it like a playoff game and have another test, I think will only serve us well, hopefully, if we get into the playoffs.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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