Hempfield softball thriving in late-inning situations during postseason

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Thursday, June 14, 2018 | 5:15 PM


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If the score gets tight late in Friday's PIAA Class 6A softball championship game, don't look for Hempfield to shy away from the moment.

Where some teams feel the heat and envision pending doom in the desperate final innings of postseason games, the Spartans see gold-plated opportunity.

Throughout the postseason, Hempfield (23-3) has thrived on 11th hour pressure, summoning offensive sparks to not only extend games but also to prolong its season.

Bring it on.

Five of Hempfield's playoff wins have been decided by a total of seven runs. That includes three, one-run wins — two via extra innings. A pair of victories have been settled by late home runs.

State power Hempfield — with all its championship clout and in-the-clutch calmness — will see yet another season reach its climax at Penn State's Nittany Lion Softball Park as the Spartans aim for their third straight PIAA title in the state's largest classification.

The Spartans take on District 11 champion Parkland (24-3) at 4 p.m. at University Park.

A postseason of thrills can get an exclamation point in the form of Hempfield's fourth state title since 1999.

“We have a never-quit attitude, and that's what keeps us in these tight games,” Hempfield senior leftfielder Allison Podkul said. “It's been a team effort; everyone is trying to do their part to help the team succeed. The last several weeks have been a lot of fun.”

Perhaps the WPIAL quarterfinals set the tone for what was to come in the postseason for Hempfield. The Spartans did not have to rally then, but sharpened their poise as they held on late for a 3-2 win over Canon-McMillan.

After a 5-3 win over Section 2 foe Norwin in the semifinals, Hempfield lined up against another section team, rival Latrobe, and carved out a classic. Jessica Persin singled home Podkul in the bottom of the 10th inning to give Hempfield a 2-1 victory and a fourth consecutive WPIAL title.

On to the PIAA quarterfinals where another WPIAL foe nearly knocked off the Spartans. Baldwin had a 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh inning, but Hempfield still had time to rally.

Sophomore Ashley Orischak put down a bunt single that seemed to hit the artificial turf like it was Velcro, and freshman Emma Hoffner raced home to score from first after an error to make it 1-1.

Senior Megan Monzo then picked the perfect time to crush her first home run of the season, sending a 1-1 delivery over the fence in left-center to send the Spartans to a 2-1 win.

“We just seem to have a way of hanging around and scratching out wins,” said Hempfield coach Bob Kalp, the time-honored coach with a program to match.

Kalp's 400th win came in the state semifinals, again with theatrics. After a long road trip to Fayetteville to finally face a team outside of the WPIAL, Hempfield slid past Nazareth just as it appeared to be headed for extras again. Orischak struck again to drum up some more late magic, launching a two-run homer to left in the 2-0 win.

“This is truly a unique team that realizes we have a chance until the final out is recorded,” said Kalp, who is 400-98-1 in his 22-year career as head coach. “It is a collection of very unselfish players all looking to contribute and make a memory. You do that by producing in the late innings.”

Hempfield senior pitcher Maddie Uschock has been one of the state's more quietly effective pitchers, leading the Spartans deep into the postseason again while maintaining control of the team's most important position.

Like one of her trademark change-ups that seems to come with a pause button, Uschock took some time to savor the moment after the semifinal win.

“I have been dreaming about this moment for myself and my team since my freshman year and I'm finally here,” Uschock said. “It's been a long road and I'm just so happy to be here.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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

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