Hitting, defense come through as defending champion Belle Vernon tops McKeesport

Thursday, April 4, 2019 | 9:20 PM

The start of the 2019 season for the two-time defending Class 4A WPIAL softball champions has not been one the program is used to.

After losing three starters, including pitcher Bailey Parshall, who is now the ace at Penn State, Belle Vernon has been searching for answers in the field and at the plate, and especially in the circle.

On Thursday, the Leopards (2-5, 2-2) took a step in the right direction, with a 7-4 win over McKeesport in a back-and-forth Section 2-4A game.

“We’ve been struggling with getting those clutch hits, and this was a game we had to have,” 18th-year coach Tom Rodriguez said. “There are three teams we’re going to have to beat to have any chance at the playoffs. We hit the ball well today. I’m pleased with the win.”

The scoring started in the second inning, when the visiting Tigers got on the board with an RBI double off the bat of freshman first baseman Alexandra Carper. It didn’t take long for the defending champs to respond. Senior first baseman Mekenzie Sokol singled home sophomore pitcher Sophia Godzak’s courtesy runner, Tara Callaway, as Belle Vernon tied the game 1-1.

Belle Vernon worked to get two runs in the third, and scored again in the fourth inning. In the third, Sokol hit a fielder’s choice for a 2-1 lead. A sacrifice fly by sophomore third baseman Vanessa Porter made it 3-1, then an RBI double from shortstop Ashley Joll, a freshman, gave the Leopards a 4-1 advantage.

McKeesport scored three times in the fifth, highlighted by a two-run single by freshman outfielder Melissa Malackany to tie the game.

It didn’t last long, as the home team plated three of its own in the home half with the aid of a Tigers’ two-base error and a fielder’s choice, which were both hard hit balls.

“When it was tied and we came back and scored three runs that was a big thing there,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone is hitting well, and we hit some balls hard and put balls in play, which is important.”

Godzak earned the win after allowing eight hits with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

With two outs in the sixth, Rodriguez made the move to bring in his other pitcher, Porter, who started at third base.

Porter got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth before finishing the game in the seventh.

Rodriguez said he feels his team is starting to turn things around.

“Our hitting was good, and we played good defense,” Rodriguez said. “The girls pitched well, too.”

McKeesport (0-3, 0-3) will look to bounce back against Carrick on Monday.

Belle Vernon is scheduled to return to action Friday for a nonsection game against Waynesburg.

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