Hempfield preps for 3rd clash with Norwin, this time in playoffs

Monday, May 22, 2023 | 5:23 PM

In the first game, Hempfield gambled, and it backfired as Norwin cranked a couple of home runs.

In the rematch, the Lady Spartans exacted revenge with a throwback kind of win: Pitching and defense ruled the day.

So what can fans expect in Round 3 when No. 2 seed Hempfield (16-3) faces No. 3 Norwin (15-5) at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the WPIAL 6A softball semifinals at Gateway?

The winner goes to the title game next week in California.

“It’s probably going to go back and forth,” Norwin senior pitcher Alyssa McCormick said. “We have to get our offense going and limit what they do.”

Hempfield, which lost 10-8 and won 2-1 against Norwin, has been waiting more than a week to play this game after earning a quarterfinal bye in the six-team bracket.

Norwin held on for an 8-7 win over Canon-McMillan in the quarterfinals. The Big Macs scored four times in the seventh, on a pair of two-run homers, to rally from an 8-3 deficit.

That was a different kind of nervous.

Norwin remembers last year’s 5-4 loss to Hempfield in the quarterfinals when the Spartans intentionally walked the Knights four times.

When Norwin won earlier this year, McCormick blasted a grand slam with the bases intentionally jammed, making the Spartans pay.

Hempfield sophomore pitcher Riley Miller, who injured her foot in last year’s playoff game, struck out nine and did not walk anyone in the win over the Knights this year.

She and McCormick allowed five hits, and Hempfield did not make an error.

“Our defense has to play well, and we need to hit like we can,” Norwin coach Brian Mesich said. “That (against Canon-McMillan) was the most runs we have given up all year.”

Hempfield coach Tina Madison said Norwin is the best hitting team in 6A. But she likes her team’s chances of limiting the big bats.

“I am expecting a very close game again,” Madison said. “The outcome will most likely come down to the last pitch. We are very familiar with each other, so there really are no surprises. It’s going to come down to who gets the timely hits and who executes defensively the best.”

Madie Kessler, Rachel Minteer and Bailey Snowberger homered for Norwin in Wednesday’s playoff win.

Minteer also homered against Hempfield in the first meeting.

“We are making a few changes going into the game to try and keep them off balance a bit more offensively,” Madison said. “It’s going to be another great Hempfield-Norwin matchup.”

Hempfield is seeking its first trip to the finals since 2019. Norwin never has played in the championship.

Other semifinals

Another third-time meeting of teams will occur in Class 4A on Wednesday when No. 4 seed Belle Vernon (15-4) plays No. 1 Elizabeth Forward (16-0) at 3 p.m. at West Mifflin.

Elizabeth Forward, the WPIAL runner-up last year, beat the Leopards, 5-2 and 11-1, in section play.

Given a choice, Belle Vernon wanted to see the Warriors in the finals, not the semis.

“I was hoping for a 3 or 6 (seed) so we would be opposite EF (in the bracket),” Belle Vernon coach Tom Rodriguez said. “Our girls are looking forward to playing them again.”

Belle Vernon has not been to the WPIAL finals since 2018, the year it won its last championship, with ace Bailey Parshall pitching as a senior.

In Class 3A, No. 2 Southmoreland (16-2) was gearing up to play its third straight semifinal. The Scotties had the most talked-about quarterfinal win when they rallied from six runs down to walk off Yough, 15-14. The seven-run seventh inning is something the team won’t soon forget.

“Even with two outs, we still felt like we could win,” said junior first baseman Kaylee Doppelheuer, who had the tying RBI and scored the winning run.

Southmoreland will face No. 3 Waynesburg (16-3) at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Peterswood Park in Venetia. The Scotties’ last finals trip came in 2018, the year they dismantled heavy favorite South Park to bring home a title.

Waynesburg and Southmoreland were section opponents in the last two-year enrollment cycle. The Scotties won three of four in that time.

“We played them, so we know them,” Southmoreland coach Todd Bunner said of Waynesburg. “Our girls are excited.”

Greensburg Central Catholic also gets another shot at a semifinal win after falling to Union in that round last year.

GCC (13-2) faces a daunting challenge in No. 1 Neshannock (18-0). The teams play 3 p.m. Wednesday at North Allegheny.

“They might be the best team in the entire WPIAL,” GCC coach Mike Gaffney said. “They are loaded.”

Like Southmoreland, GCC rallied late in the quarters to advance, only its rally came in the top of the seventh.

Down 2-1, Erica Rodriguez laced a double to center to score two runs before Abigal Dai added an RBI single in a 4-3 win over No 4 Charleroi.

“Our girls never quit,” Gaffney said. “Now, we get the best team in the state. But we won’t be overwhelmed because we have been there before.”

GCC senior leader Emma Henry thinks her team can play with the Lancers.

“There were some mental mistakes, but then I got my mind on lock,” Henry said about the last game. “We still had the lead (in the seventh), and I didn’t think about the, oh, what if? We thought we could win.

Neshannock is good, but they have never played us before. They don’t know much about us.”

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

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