George Guido: Valley’s PIAA softball title run in 2011 was worth the wait

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Saturday, July 17, 2021 | 7:55 PM


Valley appeared on its way to a 2010 PIAA softball title.

That didn’t happen, but the 2011 state title was worth the wait.

The Vikings were undefeated and WPIAL champs in 2010 only to lose to Wilmington in the PIAA quarterfinals, 5-4, in nine innings on a catcher’s balk. It was a massive disappointment for coaches, players and fans.

After losing just two starters from that team, Valley was ready for another run in 2011. The wait paid off as the Vikings defeated Manheim Central, 3-1, on June 17, 2011, to bring the state title to New Kensington and Arnold.

“The taste left over from the way 2010 ended, the girls in 2011 didn’t want to have that same feeling,” coach Carol Perroz said. “Plus, we were moved from double-A to Class AAA for 2011, so people wondered what we could do.”

Perroz was assisted by Rick Nealer and Rick Jackson.

Valley won Section 5-AAA with a 9-1 mark, losing only to Hampton.

The Vikings started the postseason with a 3-1 victory over Thomas Jefferson at Woodland Hills. Valley then won a quarterfinal over West Allegheny at Hampton Community Park.

But a WPIAL title wouldn’t be in the offing as Valley lost a semifinal to Ambridge, 2-0. That meant the Vikings would have to defeat Montour to qualify for the PIAA tournament.

Valley won that matchup, 5-2, at Cal (Pa.) and won its PIAA opener, 1-0, over Punxsutawney behind the efforts of fourth-year standout pitcher Caitlin Nealer.

That set the stage for a memorable game in the quarterfinals against Yough. It was scoreless in the fourth inning when the rains came, and Valley had to head back home from Hempfield for graduation ceremonies.

When the teams returned the following day, WPIAL champion Yough jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the fifth. With Nicole Sleith, one of the state’s top pitchers and a Robert Morris recruit in the circle, it looked like Valley would suffer another disappointment.

“It looked like the end of the line for us,” Nealer said as the teams endured another rain delay. “Yough was in the dugout laughing and taking pictures. Our coach told us after the laughing comes the crying.”

Sleith struck out 16 of a possible 18 Valley hitters over six innings. But in the seventh, Kelsey Bonk broke up the no-hitter. Nealer and Katrina George also singled to put Valley on the scoreboard. Up came senior shortstop Angelina Masters, who blasted a home run to give Valley a 4-3 victory.

“Nicole threw one down the middle and I thought this was my one chance,” Masters said. “It was crazy.”

“It took two days, but it was worth the wait,” Perroz said.

Valley knocked off Bellefonte, 1-0, in the semifinals and it was on to Penn State’s Beard Field for the finals against Manheim Central.

In that one, George was safe on an error and advanced on a single down the left-field line by Masters. Carly Bonk followed with a two-run double, and Amanda Mascara tripled home Bonk. Nealer made the three runs stand up, retiring 14 straight Manheim batters in one stretch to record the 3-1 victory.

“It was just a rush, we had finally made it,” Nealer recalled after the final out. “It marked the highest point you could get to. It was one of the happiest days ever.”

“It was surreal, playing in front of a big crowd in a (Division I) atmosphere,” Masters said. “We still get together and talk about it.”

The celebration continued upon arriving home.

“We didn’t get home till about 11:30 and the fire trucks were waiting for us and took us around the community,” Perroz said. “People were asleep, but they knew we won the state title. A season like that doesn’t just happen. It took everyone, the players, coaches, the parents, the whole community.”

Perroz still coaches the Vikings and teaches at Valley Junior High. She was inducted into the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

After an outstanding career at Allegheny College, Nealer is married and has a 9-month old daughter whom she’s holding off giving pitching lessons to at this point.

Masters and Nealer both coached at Pitt-Greensburg and Masters now works at Giant Eagle’s corporate headquarters in O’Hara.

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