Freshman slugger, sophomore ace power Hempfield into state semifinals

Thursday, June 8, 2023 | 8:55 PM

MECHANICSBURG — Hempfield rode the hot bat of freshman Lauren Howard and the spinning pitches of sophomore Riley Miller to a win Thursday in the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals.

Howard hit a solo home run in the third inning and doubled and scored in the sixth inning to help the Spartans defeat Downingtown East, the third-place finisher from District 1, 2-0, at Cumberland Valley.

“Their pitcher had a pretty good rise ball,” Howard said. “She went up and in, and I caught it well. I didn’t hit the double as well, but it carried.”

Howard said the way the team plays defense gives it a chance against anyone.

“Our defense is always there,” Howard said. “We keep teams to one or two runs. We find ways to score just enough runs.”

The victory puts the Spartans into Monday’s semifinals against Cumberland Valley at a site and time to be determined. Cumberland Valley defeated Haverford, 14-5.

Miller kept the Downingtown East bats quiet early as she retired the first 13 batters, nine on routine groundouts. She recorded her second consecutive shutout in the state playoffs, allowing four hits, walking two and striking out three.

Miller had to pitch out of trouble over the final three innings after Steph Alessandro broke up the perfect game with a single to center field.

“Lauren came through with the home run, and our defense plays outstanding,” Hempfield coach Tina Madison said. “I was frustrated that we didn’t move runners in the first two innings. We got through it.

“Our bats weren’t there. Their pitcher had a lot of movement on her pitches. She moved it well.”

Downingtown East hurler Rachael Schumann allowed two hits while walking three and striking out 10.

Downingtown East loaded the bases in the fifth inning on a single by Sam Wendig and an intentional walk to Nicole Mattie. But Miller, who fell behind Katie Cohen two balls and no strikes, got the ninth batter in the lineup to hit a roller to the mound to retire the side.

“The girls know I’m not afraid to intentionally walk batters if it calls for it,” Madison said. “They are used to it, but I’m confident that they’ll make the plays. Riley has been in a lot of tough situations this year and has come though.”

Miller admitted that she was a little nervous in the fifth inning, but she knew her defense had her back.

“I’m confident that the defense will make the plays behind me,” Miller said. “How many groundouts do we have? It was all defense behind me. It’s amazing that we’re headed to the semifinals and super exciting.”

After Hempfield made it 2-0 in the top of the sixth inning, Downingtown East got a leadoff double by Jade Jenkins, but Miller left her stranded at third base by striking out Lily Waterer and getting Schumann to ground out.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Alessandro reached on a bad-hop single, and, with one out, Wendig walked. But Miller got Mattie and Cohen to ground out to second baseman Sarah Podkul to end the game.

“We were waiting for a clutch hit, and it never happened,” Downingtown East coach Reeya Chopta said. “The Hempfield pitcher did a good job spinning the ball down and away, and their defense was solid.”

It was only the second time this season that Downingtown East was shut out.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at


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