Gambles pay off for Hempfield softball in walk-off win over rival Norwin

Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | 10:07 PM

Top-seeded Hempfield played the percentages and, as a result, gets to play in the semifinals.

Spartans first-year softball coach Tina Madison issued four intentional walks to Norwin — including two in the seventh inning with her team up by one run — and allowed the Knights to load the bases three times.

The strategy was playing with fire, but Madison did not want to get burned by the long ball in Wednesday’s WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinal at Penn-Trafford.

As it turned out, she didn’t. The gamble paid off and Hempfield survived — just barely.

Talk about a walk-off.

Sophomore Maggie Howard grounded out to second, allowing freshman Allie Cervola to score the winning run in the bottom of the seventh for a 5-4 victory.

Madison, who replaced longtime coach Bob Kalp, undeniably did it her way in her playoff debut.

“I am looking at the odds,” Madison said. “I want to get outs. Norwin has several home-run hitters. I figured, let their other six girls beat us.”

Hempfield (13-3) advances to play either No. 5 Bethel Park (9-8) or No. 4 Seneca Valley (10-6) in the semifinals next Wednesday at a time and site to be determined.

Cervola, the catcher, doubled to deep left to start the seventh and stayed in to run despite usually getting replaced by courtesy runner.

After a sacrifice bunt by sophomore Olivia Grimmer, she moved to third before sprinting home on a fielder’s choice by Howard.

“Allie deserved to score that run,” Madison said. “I am so proud of these girls. This game was a coin flip.”

Cervola said, “We needed to keep our energy up. I just knew I had to get on base.”

Howard made a pit stop at a nearby restroom because she felt nauseous in the fifth inning. But the feeling passed.

“It was just nerves,” Howard said. “We did what we had to do. Allie started us off. I just wanted to put the ball in play.”

No. 8 seed Norwin, which had built some recent momentum, ends the season at 6-10.

The Knights rallied from deficits of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 to tie the Spartans but could not overtake them.

“That was a championship-level game,” Norwin coach Brian Mesich said. “Every aspect of softball came into play. It hurts to lose that way. You have to hit when it’s time to hit and field when it’s time to field.”

Hempfield took three games from Norwin this season, including two in section play.

After Hempfield went ahead 4-3 in the sixth on an RBI single by freshman Riley Miller, the winning pitcher, Norwin rallied again.

Norwin senior Mallory Wensel and junior Emma Novotnak were walked intentionally with two outs in the top of the seventh, which had a disputed finish.

Senior Julianna Shimko singled sharply past short to make it 4-4, but a second run was denied when senior Sydney Mitchell fired home to Cervola, who held her ground at the plate and absorbed a collision with junior Alyssa McCormick.

“I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t have sent her there,” Mesich said. “(Hempfield) made the play. It’s over.”

Wensel hit a two-run homer in the second, but that was the last swing she got in this game.

Hempfield put her on in the third and fifth, and Norwin left the bases jammed both times as Miller got McCormick to fly out and then struck her out.

“I had more walks today than Riley,” Madison said. “I know some coaches wouldn’t (issue the walks), but I felt like that is what we needed to do. Some coaches might say, let’s go right at them. Norwin was skyrocketing. (Wensel) hit a bunch of homers off us this year. We didn’t want it to happen again.”

Novotnak also homered, a solo shot to left center in the sixth to tie it 3-3.

“If I don’t walk Wensel, we don’t win that game 5-4,” Madison said. “If I don’t walk Novotnak, we don’t win.”

Howard said the walks were understandable.

“We knew our defense was steady,” she said. “Plus, we have Riley.”

Miller also won her playoff debut, striking out six and walking eight, the free passes included.

Sophomore Mia Bandieramonte clubbed a two-run homer for Hempfield in the first.

Cervola’s run-scoring single in the second gave Hempfield a 3-2 lead.

Sophomore Bailey Snowberger was 3 for 4, senior Angelina Pepe, who took the tough-luck loss, doubled and Novotnak finished 2 for 3 for Norwin.

Bandieramonte and Cervola had two hits apiece for Hempfield.

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

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