Home runs by Madison Baker, Abigail Bauer lift Armstrong to 2nd WPIAL softball title in 3 seasons

Thursday, May 30, 2024 | 5:24 PM

Madison Baker had allowed three runs and her team trailed by one in the bottom of the sixth inning Thursday. With one swing, the Armstrong pitcher changed momentum and helped secure a 9-3 victory for the River Hawks.

Baker hit a two-run rocket over the left-field fence at Cal (Pa.)’s Lilley Field, and Abigail Bauer later followed with a three-run blast during a seven-run inning to give top-seeded Armstrong a victory over No. 10 Thomas Jefferson and its second WPIAL Class 5A softball title in the last three seasons.

“It was probably the best moment of my career so far,” Baker said of the go-ahead homer.

“That’s her first home run in a high school game — as a senior in the WPIAL championship game,” Armstrong coach Keith Shaffer said.

Armstrong (18-3) got the scoring started in the bottom of the first with an RBI double by first baseman Jessie Pugh. In the bottom of the third, Pugh’s sacrifice fly scored Shelby Cloak, who had tripled.

After Thomas Jefferson right fielder Sophia Janosko made a pair of highlight-reel diving catches to keep the deficit at 2-0, designated player Alayna Grese smacked a two-run double in the top of the fourth to tie the game 2-2. Adalina Bracco then hit a sacrifice fly in the top of fifth to give the Jaguars their first lead at 3-2.

Armstrong struggled early against TJ starter Aubrey Shaffer, until the bottom of the sixth inning when the two homers ignited a winning rally.

Pugh, Jordyn Klingensmith and Lily Gutherie all had two hits for the River Hawks. Baker allowed two earned runs on six hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in the complete-game victory.

Coach Shaffer said he feels a lot of people were not taking his team seriously to start the season.

“There are a lot of people that counted us out because of the players that we lost after last year,” he said.

Throughout the game, Armstrong’s dugout uses lots of noise to keep energy levels high. Bauer is a big proponent behind it.

“I’m a big like, let’s stay loud. Everyone be loud all the time. I’m always talking to the girls, making sure everybody’s loud,” Bauer said.

Olivia Stock and Morgan Alisesky each had two hits for the Jaguars.

Aubrey Shaffer, a freshman, went six innings and gave up 12 hits along with eight earned runs and four strikeouts in the loss.

Thomas Jefferson coach Heidi Karcher remained positive after the loss, especially about her freshman pitcher.

“Aubrey, for being a freshman, … did a great job for us,” Karcher said.

Despite the positive attitude about the game, Karcher said she wants her team to be ultra aggressive once state playoffs come around next week.

“I told them, we can do one of two things now. We can give up and play dead on Monday, or we can fight and make a run in the state playoffs,” Karcher said.

Thomas Jefferson (12-8) will play the District 3 runner-up, either Southwestern or Solanco, in the PIAA first round.

The River Hawks advanced to play Latrobe in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Monday.

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