Knoch softball embraces underdog role in PIAA playoffs

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Sunday, June 2, 2019 | 6:31 PM


If there’s one softball team in the PIAA Class 4A bracket flying under the radar, it has to be Knoch.

Amid the hoopla that comes with WPIAL softball championship week, the twice-defeated Knights quietly earned the WPIAL’s third seed in the PIAA postseason bracket with their 7-2 win over Thomas Jefferson in last Tuesday’s consolation game. Knoch standout pitcher Amanda Fischer wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I like being the underdog in all of this,” said Fischer, who holds a 1.73 ERA and 15-2 record. “I think that we are definitely underrated, especially since this is the first time making it this far.

“I think people are underestimating us and think that it will be an easy game. We’ll definitely put up a challenge against people who are thinking that.”

Knoch (21-2) will open its trip to PIAAs at 4:30 p.m. Monday, when the Knights travel to Slippery Rock to face Grove City (15-5). The Eagles beat Warren, 1-0, to earn the District 10 title.

“We’re sitting good,” Knoch coach Gary Coe said. “We had the attention from the media, and it quieted down a little bit. We’re one of three (WPIAL Class 4A teams still playing), and there are girls that have hung up their gloves for the year.”

Before the 4-0 semifinal loss to eventual WPIAL champion Elizabeth Forward, the Knights were riding a 13-game winning streak that dated to April 5 in which they outscored opponents 131-15, including six shutouts. The Elizabeth Forward game was the first defeat north of the Mason-Dixon line.

“We’ve just played with each other since we were 10,” Fischer said. “We know that there are teams that are out for us. We know there’s a huge target on our back.”

Prior to semifinals loss, the Knights traveled to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and were beaten by one of Kentucky’s top softball teams, Boyle County (Danville, Ky.), 2-0.

“I tell the girls to play for each other, play to our level and we’ll be fine,” Coe said. “That’s the message I say to them every game.”

That message has been received loud and clear, and if recent history is any indicator, the Knights could be one of the scariest teams in the state bracket.

If the Knights make it past Grove City, and Elizabeth Forward knocks off District 9 champ Punxsutawney, the teams would meet again in the Thursday’s quarterfinals.

“We played Elizabeth Forward, and they turned around and won the WPIAL,” Coe said. “Sometimes you lose a game you think you should win, and that would be one of them.”

Knoch is loaded with hitters, but the common thread in the Knights’ losses was they were held scoreless. The Knights have a .407 team batting average this season and are led at the plate by senior Erin Luffy and her .634 average. Luffy also leads the team in home runs (five) — including a 220-foot solo shot in the win over Thomas Jefferson — RBIs (41) and doubles (11).

Senior Monica Gourley leads the team in hits (52) and runs scored (37), and sophomore Quinn Hughes is tops in triples (three).

“You never know from one game to the next who is going to be the big stick in the game,” Coe said. “From game to game, people have been stepping up. I look for good things out of all of them every game.”

Even with all the big sticks and stellar pitching, the constant that can’t be quantified is the Knights’ ability to play loose and have fun.

“We’re easy-going, and we try to keep it fun and make it fun,” Coe said. “We try to keep it loose. We’re here to have fun.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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