Hempfield softball surges past Cumberland Valley, advances to Class 6A state final

Monday, June 12, 2023 | 9:39 PM

LORETTO — Hempfield asked for the pregame music to be turned off while it took infield practice Monday after a half-hour rain delay.

The Spartans then proceeded to make a lot of noise on the basepaths.

Hempfield jumped on District 3 champion Cumberland Valley early and kept the offense coming with solid contact and extra-base hits in a 6-1 victory in a PIAA Class 6A softball semifinal at St. Francis (Pa.)’s Red Flash Field.

A gloomy afternoon with misty rain and cold air did not dampen Hempfield’s spirits because the team will get to play for another state title.

The Spartans (21-3) will meet either North Penn (26-0) or Chambersburg (13-1) in Thursday’s 4 p.m. championship at Penn State.

Those teams were rained out Monday and will play their semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Millersville University.

WPIAL champion Hempfield is back in the state finals for the first time since 2018.

Freshman Lauren Howard continued her white-hot run in the state playoffs by going 2 for 3 with a double and triple, and juniors Emily Griffith and Sarah Podkul launched home runs for the Spartans, who were making their sixth state semifinal appearance since 2015.

They now will take aim at a fifth PIAA championship.

Sophomore pitcher Riley Miller didn’t get her third shutout in the PIAA postseason in as many tries, but she limited the Eagles (19-6) to seven hits — all singles — and rendered the bottom of their lineup powerless as the bottom four went 0 for 10 with six strikeouts.

Miller fanned eight overall.

Hempfield pushed all its chips in after a strong opening inning.

“When we got two runs in the first inning, I knew we were going to win,” said Howard, who followed freshman Claire Mitchell’s single with a triple, before she scored on a wild pitch on ball four to junior Peyton Heisler.

Said Hempfield coach Tina Madison: “I always say how important that first half-inning is. The first three innings, it was raining and kind of miserable. But getting the early lead was huge, and our girls settled in.”

When Cumberland Valley threatened in the first, getting runners on first and second with one out, Heisler snuffed out the Eagles’ opportunity with a diving catch in center, then threw to second for an inning-ending, rally-killing double play.

“That legit was the pivotal point in the game, in the bottom of the first,” Madison said.

Playing with a quiet poise and looking like she knew what to expect in her first go-round in states, Howard has produced 10 hits in 14 at-bats over three PIAA games. She roped an RBI double to center to score Mitchell in the third to make it 3-0.

The Spartans had nine hits. Four of them went for extra bases, and most of them were a result of solid contact.

“When I see the first pitch, I swing as hard as I can,” Howard said.

“It helps me get comfortable and focus.”

Three batters later, Griffith blasted one over the fence in left center for a two-run shot to stretch it to 5-0.

“We thought if we could put a crooked number up there early, we could help Riley out,” Griffith said. “We know anyone can come up with a hit in our lineup.”

Mitchell and Podkul each had two hits. Podkul, an unassuming bat in the order when it comes to power, led off the sixth with her first home run in a Hempfield uniform — a crushed solo shot that made it 6-1.

It was a memorable homer for Podkul in more ways than one: It was estimated to have sailed about 300 feet, over the bleachers in left.

“I had never hit a home run in high school before,” Podkul said. “I wasn’t thinking about a home run there. I just wanted to get on base. I just wanted to stay relaxed.

“Emily’s homer broke the ice, to be honest. It sparked us.”

Cumberland Valley, in the state semifinals for the first time since 2014, scored its only run on a groundout by Evelyn Coburn in the fourth. Sydney May, the losing pitcher, led off the inning with a single, and Gracie Lau followed with a single off the fence.

“Our girls battled all the way,” Cumberland Valley coach Gregg Williams said. “We couldn’t get that big hit, while Hempfield did. They timed it up right and won the game.”

Emma Stroup and Emma Morgan each had two hits for the Eagles.

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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