Hempfield softball loses in PIAA Class 6A semifinals
Tuesday, June 11, 2019 | 9:02 PM
LORETTO — Bob Kalp forced a smile not long after his Hempfield softball team fell just short of yet another trip to the state finals.
Perhaps the longtime Hall of Fame-caliber coach — Hempfield’s field already has been named for him — somehow was at peace Tuesday despite a 4-1 loss to Central Dauphin in the Class 6A semifinals at St. Francis (Pa.).
After all, how could Kalp be shocked this time around?
His surprising Spartans were shooting for their fourth consecutive PIAA championship after a slow start to the season but couldn’t get past the semifinals after Central Dauphin rallied from a 1-0 deficit and scored three runs in the top of the seventh to advance to its first title game.
“It’s been a great year,” Kalp said.
Hempfield, at 6-5, was barely treading the .500 mark early on. But the Spartans got hot and raced to the semifinals, setting themselves up for another shot at a championship.
“This year was a little bit different because at the beginning of the year, nobody expected absolutely anything from us,” said Laura Fox, one of four outgoing Hempfield seniors, all part of the program’s three most recent titles.
“Our whole thing was just keep working hard and prove ourselves wrong. As a team, we proved everybody, and even ourselves, wrong. We never expected at the beginning of the season to come this far.”
Hempfield has won seven WPIAL titles, including the past five, to go with four state championships including two in Class 4A and two in 6A, when the PIAA expanded to six classifications in 2016-17.
After the Spartans’ lackluster start to the season, who could have expected Kalp to be upset by the latest result any more than the usual disappointment that comes with a loss?
“In the second week of March,” Kalp said, “people were saying to me, ‘You’re going to make a run. You’re going to make …’ I said, ‘What are you smoking? Come in and watch us practice. Come in and watch us play. We don’t have any pitching.’ Everything was in disarray.
“But we worked and got better and better as the season went on. I don’t think we embarrassed ourselves today. They worked real hard all year.”
Sam Burns homered and drove in a three runs — two during the crucial, three-run seventh — to lead District 3 champion Central Dauphin (24-2), which advances to play District 2 champion Hazelton for the PIAA title at 4 p.m. Thursday at Penn State.
Hempfield managed three hits against N.C. State-bound right-hander Sam Gress, who committed the Rams’ only error in the first inning on Emma Hoffner’s comebacker that went through the pitcher’s legs.
In the second, Hempfield (18-7) got to Gress, who struck out six, walked two and hit a batter, taking a 1-0 lead with two outs as Hanna Pavsek doubled and scored on Kelsi Terzolino’s single.
Central Dauphin tied it in the fourth on Burns’ solo home run over the center-field fence.
Neither team was able to cash in on its other scoring opportunities until Central Dauphin erupted in the seventh against hard-luck loser Callie Sowers, who struck out eight and walked four.
Central Dauphin got three of its nine hits against Sowers in the seventh. Hailee Beaver-Beaston led off with a single, Bella Cup followed with her third single of the game and Gress walked.
After a strikeout, Alondra Figueroa’s fielder’s choice groundout to second scored Beaver-Beaston to give the Rams a 2-1 lead. Burns’ sharp single to center drove in Bella Culp and Gress.
“It was almost like a big prize fight,” Central Dauphin coach Ken Williams said. “Two big heavyweights were going at it. They got the first punch in. We got a punch in, then late, we got some big hits and took that 4-1 lead.”
Hempfield loaded the bases in the fourth before Sowers’ grounder up the middle was cut off by Culp, who flipped the ball to Burns to end the Spartans rally.
Central Dauphin loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, but Figueroa popped out to Hempfield second baseman Jessica Persin.