Hempfield can’t crack North Penn ace in 1-0 PIAA championship game loss

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Thursday, June 15, 2023 | 6:24 PM


UNIVERSITY PARK — Walled off by a gifted pitcher and unable to manufacture offense with runners on base, Hempfield lost a state softball championship for the first time.

Happy Valley wasn’t very for the Spartans, who finally met their match in the PIAA tournament.

“We didn’t get that big hit when we needed it,” Hempfield coach Tina Madison said. “That was the story of the show.”

Hempfield, a perennial power looking for its fifth PIAA title in as many attempts, was turned back by North Penn, 1-0, on Thursday in the Class 6A championship at Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park.

Hempfield (21-4) had won titles in 1999, 2016, ’17 and ’18. Despite getting the bat on the ball early against star left-handed pitcher Julia Shearer, the Spartans left six runners stranded, including at second and third in the fifth with one out.

There were no monster home runs or extra-base hits this time as the offense was held in check. Despite making solid contact against Shearer, nothing produced a run.

“We had opportunities,” said Madison, a state champion pitcher at Hempfield in ’99. “All year long, we came through. (Shearer) is an excellent pitcher. Not many pitchers can shut us down.”

Like Hempfield in 2017, North Penn finished a perfect season with a 28-0 record as Shearer tossed a four-hit shutout with nine strikeouts on 97 pitches.

The Knights, the District 1 champions from Lansdale, now have five state titles, tying the record held by Parkland and Pennsbury.

They also won in 2021.

Shearer (28-0), a two-time Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year and a Maryland commit, was impressed with Hempfield’s lineup, saying it was the toughest she has faced all season.

Still, she only needed one run with which to work.

“Our coach had 28-0 on our scoreboard from the start of the season on,” Shearer said. “You laugh, because you think about that being almost impossible. But we did it. (Hempfield) swung a lot more than (other teams). I’m used to seeing batters watch them go by.”

Hempfield sophomore pitcher Riley Miller was effective, scattering seven hits, but two proved to be the difference in the fourth as the Knights downed the WPIAL champions.

“I missed my spots a little when they both doubled,” Miller said.

After the Knights left two stranded the previous inning, juniors Gianna Cimino and Sophia Orth hit back-to-back doubles with two outs to knock in the game’s only run.

“Those two kids have been unbelievable,” North Penn coach Rich Terresani said. “That was huge. It was clutch. With Sophia, with the game on the line, there is nobody better.”

Hempfield looked like it was going to answer in the top of the fifth.

After senior designated player Mia Bandieramonte, was hit by a pitch, junior Maggie Howard, who made an impressive diving catch earlier in right, doubled to center.

But with runners at second and third, Shearer forced a flyout and groundout to squash the threat.

North Penn loaded the bases in the sixth, but this time Miller worked around trouble with no damage.

Junior second baseman Sarah Podkul opened the sixth with a single for the Spartans and was bunted to second.

But again, Shearer calmly earned a strikeout and flyout to keep it 1-0.

Hempfield felt Shearer’s speed in its last at-bats in the seventh. The senior struck out the side — Bandieramonte, freshman Ella Berkebile and Howard — to end it.

She also held freshman Lauren Howard hitless. Howard had been on a tear in the state postseason.

“My rise ball was working well, and I also used my changeup,” said Shearer, who had 355 strikeouts and allowed five earned runs this season. “Their pitcher was really good, too.”

Also a big hitter for the Knights, Shearer added a single before she intentionally was walked twice.

Junior Casey Sokol went 3 for 3, and Orth had two hits for the Knights.

Freshman Claire Mitchell and sophomore Allie Cervola, who hit cleanup for the first time all year, also had hits for Hempfield.

Miller struck out three and walked two in the loss.

Hempfield will graduate one starter.

“Our girls made it here and played on a big stage,” Madison said. “I don’t take losing very well, but I am proud of all of them.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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