Hard-hitting Highlands gets rematch with WPIAL champ Beaver in PIAA Class 4A semifinals

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Sunday, June 13, 2021 | 6:27 PM


Jess Cekada was mobbed by her Highlands teammates as the junior shortstop crossed home plate after hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning of Thursday’s PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal game against Bishop McDevitt under the lights at Central Cambria High School.

An inning earlier, senior second baseman Joie Becom delivered a clutch two-out, two-run single to extend the Golden Rams’ advantage to three runs.

Both hits punctuated a team effort for Highlands, which collected nine hits and powered past the District 3 champion Crusaders, 6-1. It withstood a long rain delay and a move from Mt. Aloysius College in Cresson, the game’s original location, to Ebensburg.

The Golden Rams passed that challenge and are gearing up for the next one, a rematch with WPIAL champion Beaver Area on Monday with a spot in the state title game on the line.

“I love this team so much. I am just so proud of everyone,” Beacom said after Thursday’s win, her voice breaking with emotion. “This was a great team effort. This team has come so far, and it is so special to make more history with them.”

Monday’s PIAA semifinal is set for 2 p.m. at Mars.

Rain again toyed with Highlands as it caused issues with practice Friday afternoon, but the team pressed on into the weekend with better weather Saturday for a relaxed batting session.

Practice on Sunday put in some final touches for Monday’s rematch.

The Golden Rams broke out for 22 hits in their PIAA two playoff games, including nine against Bishop McDevitt, after being held to just one hit, a single from sophomore catcher Kassidy Cambal, in a 2-1 loss to the Bobcats in the WPIAL title game June 2.

The Golden Rams defense also committed just two errors combined against Clearfield and Bishop McDevitt after committing five errors against Beaver.

“I think we are going to give a better showing this game,” Cambal said of the rematch. “It was tight last game, and I know everyone is excited to play them again.

“It does give us more of a comfort level in preparing because we know Beaver so much better. We know the speed of the pitching and some other specific strategies we need to work on. For Thursday, we only had stats and a little live video for (Bishop McDevitt), but we hadn’t seen them in person before.”

Highlands rallied to tie Beaver in the WPIAL title game with a run in the top of the seventh.

Sophomore first baseman Abbie Desieroth reached on an error to begin the inning, moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a grounder to first by senior Kylie Zourelias and scored when Beaver misjudged a pop-up in the infield.

However, Bobcats’ third baseman Kayla Cornell singled with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the seventh. An error on the play allowed the winning run to score.

“We are evenly matched, and I think it is going to be another great game,” sophomore left fielder Riley Pointkowski said.

Pointkowski, who went 3 for 4 with a triple in the Golden Rams’ PIAA first-round win over Clearfield, said this isn’t a revenge game. It is, she said, simply the next step in wanting to get to Penn State’s Beard Field for the championship game at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

“I think it would be a revenge factor if we had any tension with the team, but they are a really great team,” Pointkowski said. “It should be a lot of fun.”

The rematch with Beaver (19-0) almost was a rematch with Elizabeth Forward as the Warriors, who Highlands rallied to defeat 6-4 in eight innings in the WPIAL semifinals, built a 3-0 lead against the Bobcats and junior pitcher Peyton List in Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup at Norwin.

But List, a Virginia Tech recruit, didn’t allow any more runs, and a five-run fifth inning, highlighted by a bases-loaded double from List, rallied Beaver to a 5-3 win.

List gave up two earned runs, seven hits, three walks and struck out 11 against the Warriors.

“She is a great pitcher, and we just want to take what we learned from the first time and hopefully have a few more good at-bats,” Pointkowski said.

Highlands and Beaver are in the state semifinals for the first time.

“It’s awesome to be able to play with these girls well into June and keep this season going to the (semifinals), especially when people didn’t think we would go this far,” Cambal said.

“We’ve played as a team and proven people wrong.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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