Jenna Clontz belts WPIAL-winning walk-off homer as Armstrong tops Penn-Trafford

Friday, June 3, 2022 | 8:46 PM

Moments after the game ended, Armstrong fans lugged a giant boom-box radio onto Lilley Field and turned up the music, bobbing their heads to the thumping beat.

Junior left fielder Jenna Clontz had just performed one of the program’s greatest hits.

This was the “hoopla” Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little warned his team about.

Clontz belted a payoff pitch over the fence in right-center field for a walk-off solo home run as top-seeded Armstrong won its first WPIAL softball championship with a 6-5 victory over No. 2 Penn-Trafford in the Class 5A title game Friday night at Cal (Pa.).

“I was just thinking to myself, I can win this right here,” said Clontz, a Gannon commit who had two hits and two RBIs in the Class 5A title game. “I felt a home run coming. I saw (pitcher) Camryn (Sprankle) was nervous (about extra innings), and I told her, ‘I’m going to win it for you.’ ”

That she did, sending a 3-2 delivery off of Penn-Trafford senior ace Mia Smith opposite field and into the crowd in the bottom of the seventh for her fifth homer of the season to lift the River Hawks to the first district title in school history in any sport.

“That’s our clean-up hitter,” Armstrong coach Doug Flanders said. “I feel so good for her and all of these girls. This means everything for our community.”

Armstrong (20-4), the school formed seven years ago by the merger of Kittanning and Ford City, was the WPIAL runner-up last season but finished the job this time in dramatic fashion.

“We turned silver into gold,” Flanders said. “We were not going to be denied.”

It wasn’t the offensive barrage some expected — the teams combined for as many runs as Armstrong averages — but it proved to be a title game to remember.

Penn-Trafford (18-3) came back from a 5-1 deficit and was hoping for extra innings.

But Clontz, intentionally walked three innings earlier, launched the team’s 33rd homer of the year to stir up a dust-filled celebration at home plate just as the sun began to fade in California.

Armstrong had one more hit than Penn-Trafford (7 to 6), but it was huge.

“That game was nip-and-tuck all the way until that last pitch,” Little said. “It was their best hitter against our best pitcher. She made a great swing, and she got it all.”

Smith, who struck out eight, had held the big-hitting River Hawks to a half-dozen hits, just one for extra bases, when Clontz led off the seventh. Smith worked into long counts and allowed just one fly ball to left.

“She threw a ton of pitches,” Flanders said. “Our girls were patient.”

Up to that point, the game had singles. It had doubles. It even had a triple by Penn-Trafford freshman Cam Ponko. But what it seemed to be missing in a matchup of long-bombers was that elusive homer.

“We waited for (Smith) to throw that pitch, and (Clontz) crushed it,” Flanders said. “Her job was to get on, but she came through in another way. I think we have hit a home run in every game.”

Penn-Trafford rallied for a late tie but could not overtake the River Hawks.

Armstrong took a 3-0 lead in the first inning and had a 5-1 advantage in the second before the Warriors came back.

Junior pinch-hitter Alexa Forsythe knocked in the tying run in the sixth for Penn-Trafford with a one-out single, her third hit off the bench — and second RBI — of the playoffs.

Smith struck out three in the sixth and hoped to hold the River Hawks in check to get to extras tied 5-5.

“That’s the best offensive team I’ve ever faced,” Smith said. “That first inning was a wake-up call. I had to lock in and anchor down.”

Clontz finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs.

She added a two-run double in the first, and sophomore Jesse Pugh singled in a run in the opening inning.

Senior third baseman Mackenzie Egley made it 4-1 with a single to left in the second, and an error gave the River Hawks a four-run lead.

The Warriors had three errors.

“Errors really affected us today,” Smith said. “If we don’t make those, it’s probably a different ballgame.”

A three-run third allowed Penn-Trafford to get within 5-4. Junior Kylee Piconi knocked in a run with a drop-and-stop bunt, senior catcher Maddy Rapp doubled in a run and a bases-loaded walk followed.

Senior left fielder Hannah Allen singled to start the sixth, and freshman courtesy runner Olivia Popovich moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Forsythe came through again with a sharp single to center to make it 5-5.

Allen had two hits and two RBIs.

Egley and junior right fielder Emma Smerick each had two hits in the victory.

Sprankle only had two strikeouts but limited the Warriors’ top five hitters to a 3-for-16 effort.

She walked four.

“Both teams had phenomenal pitchers,” Flanders said. “Penn-Trafford is a great team. They’re well-coached, and they have hard-nosed girls. They can hurt you in a lot of ways.”

Penn-Trafford was in the WPIAL title game for the second time. Its 1990 team also was a WPIAL runner-up.

The Warriors lost in the WPIAL semifinals in 2019 but rallied to win the PIAA championship.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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