Hempfield’s Bandieramonte honors memory of late father with WPIAL title-clinching homer

Thursday, June 1, 2023 | 4:12 PM

The softball sailed high and true, carrying deep into the night sky until gravity finally took over. It clanked off the left-field bleachers some 240 feet from home plate.

Mia Bandieramonte had hit home runs before, but none quite like the one she sent out of Cal (Pa.)’s Lilley Field on Wednesday night to lift Hempfield to a 2-1 win over defending champion and top-seeded Seneca Valley for the Spartans’ eighth WPIAL softball championship.

This one was special.

The specialness of it truly hit her when she saw and hugged her grandparents in front of Hempfield’s dugout after the dramatic, eight-inning victory.

She wanted to hug her father, too, but he wasn’t there to see the epic moment under the lights, in extras, for the trophy.

Bandieramonte’s father, Jay, died of prostate cancer in January at age 55.

“I’m just thinking about him,” Mia said, a gold medal hanging from her neck and a cry turning into a smile. “I hit that one for him. He would be really proud of me.”

Bandieramonte has a bird tattoo on her arm because everyone called her dad, “Jaybird.”

Hempfield held off Seneca Valley in the bottom of the eighth, with right fielder Maggie Howard making a running catch to secure the win.

“That has to be an instant classic, right?” Hempfield athletic director Brandon Rapp said as he watched the girls celebrate the team’s first title since 2019.”

That, is was.

With a just-make-contact game plan, the Spartans (18-3) finally got their bats around on Seneca Valley star pitcher Lexie Hames, who struck them out 30 times across two games this season, and backed a stern effort from sophomore pitcher Riley Miller to return to WPIAL glory, a dynasty remembering that winning feeling.

Hempfield beat the Raiders (17-2), 3-2, on a walk-off wild pitch early in the season but fanned 18 times in a 3-0 loss that decided the Class 6A section championship just before the playoffs.

A pitching machine — the “Hack Attack” on lend from freshman catcher Ella Berkebile — helped Hempfield catch up to Hames’ near-70-mph speed, and her high deliveries.

Rumor has it a bat was broken during practice as the machine was cranked up to near capacity.

In the final, the Spartans finally broke Seneca Valley, the PIAA runner-up last year that had won 11 in a row and allowed just 14 runs all season. Hempfield had five of them.

“If we struck out less than 10 times, I thought we could win the game,” Hempfield second-year coach Tina Madison said. “Lexie is really good. But our Riley is pretty good, too. We call her, ‘Stone Cold Riley.’ ”

Miller held her own in the title game, striking out 11 and scattering four hits, including doubles by Kara Pasquale and Kylie Staudt. But Seneca Valley never got a runner to third.

“I used the energy from Mia’s home run,” Miller said.

Hames, the WPIAL strikeout leader, had nine K’s and allowed just three hits in a title game that was supposed to start at 4:45 p.m. but didn’t begin until 7:38 because of two lengthy titles games earlier in the day.

But one of those hits — the one that was right on time — will stand out in Hempfield lore.

“The girls are going to remember this one for a long time,” Hempfield assistant Bob Madison said.

Hitting ninth in the lineup — she hit clean-up earlier in the season — Bandieramonte turned on a 3-1 pitch with one out and gave Hempfield a 2-1 lead.

Hames had retired 14 of 15 Hempfield hitters when Bandieramonte stepped in. One swing of the bat truly can change a game.

“I knew it was gone,” said Bandieramonte, the only senior in the starting lineup and a Chatham commit. “My teammates deserved to win. I was hitting for contact, but it worked out.”

Her father, a former West Point Little League coach, would have been thrilled to see the biggest hit of his daughter’s career. His obituary said as much: “He was always so proud to cheer for his favorite player, his daughter, Mia.” Tina Madison said Jay Bandieramonte was a fixture among the Spartans faithful.

“He’d come to all the games,” she said. “He was our No. 1 fan. I am so happy for Mia to have that moment.”

Bandieramonte’s teammates knew how special the solo homer was as soon as it left the bat, for the team and for their designated player.

“We love Mia so much,” Lauren Howard said. “It was so great to see her do that.”

Added junior Peyton Heisler: “When she first hit it, I thought it might drop in for extra bases. When we saw it go out, it was the most exciting moment of my life.”

Heisler, the No.3 hitter who dropped a sacrifice bunt in the first inning that led to Hempfield’s first run, was impressed with how Miller worked against Hames. But she said this game was more than a pitchers’ duel.

“I don’t know if I’d say Riley out-pitched (Hames),” Heisler said. “But what I can is that say we out-teamed them.”

Hempfield will open the PIAA playoffs Monday against an opponent to be determined. The game will be in WPIAL territory.

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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