Leechburg softball confident it can make postseason run

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018 | 11:30 PM


Morgan Pierce insisted to teammates last spring that Leechburg would end its seven-year drought without winning a WPIAL playoff game.

So it makes sense what the Blue Devils' senior pitcher would pinpoint as the No. 1 factor for the team to make an even deeper run this postseason.

“Confidence,” she said. “Everything just has to be on. We've just got to be on as a team. We've got to be all together, very motivational, just keep going on.”

The Blue Devils (12-3), who won their second consecutive Section 3-A title earlier this week, hold the WPIAL's longest all-time softball playoff streak at 32 consecutive years. They also have three WPIAL titles, six runner-up finishes and a pair of PIAA championships.

But until last season, when Leechburg advanced to the WPIAL semifinals, the program had six consecutive one-and-done postseason appearances. And although the Blue Devils snapped that skid with a quarterfinal victory over California, two consecutive losses — to West Greene in the semifinals and Carmichaels in the WPIAL consolation game — meant their season ended a victory short of the state playoffs.

“I think that made us more hungry for this year, how far we went last year,” senior centerfielder Daesha Knight said. “So we're hoping to go further and get the WPIAL.”

Leechburg has a younger roster this season after the graduation of some senior stalwarts, including three — Brooke Blumer, Kasey Klapheke and Lexie Young — who are playing in college. This roster includes three seniors in Pierce, Knight and Hannah Berry, and freshmen starters in McKenna Pierce, Emma Ritchie and Olivia Shimer.

Yet, the Blue Devils kept rolling, exceeding double digits in runs eight times and posting seven mercy-rule victories.

“I feel like we've gotten closer as a team, not just in the game but our bonds with each other,” Knight said. “We have a lot of sophomores and freshmen, and as the season has progressed, we've gotten better and worked together better.”

But the most valuable game for Leechburg might be one the Blue Devils didn't win: a 14-9 loss to Bishop Canevin last week that ended their 20-game section winning streak. Knight said the Crusaders “came for blood” in that game, and Leechburg didn't match their intensity.

“I think it just puts things in perspective,” Leechburg coach Debbie Young said. “I think that it shows them that we're not as tough as we thought we were, and I think that also puts them in their place going into playoff play to know that hey, we have to play a little bit harder to win this game. I think that might help us in the end. I'm not disappointed in that respect.”

Perhaps as a sign that lesson sunk in, Leechburg won its final three section games by a combined 31-3 score.

Pierce, a four-year starter, continues to lead the way for Leechburg, with a strong defense backing her up. The Blue Devils played spotless defense in an 8-1 win over St. Joseph on Tuesday that clinched the outright section title.

The offense has hits and misses, “but when we're on, we're on,” Pierce said.

Leechburg will learn its playoff fate Thursday, when the WPIAL steering committee releases the softball brackets. Last season, the Blue Devils snagged the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye. Young said she was eager to learn who the Blue Devils will face; Pierce is just ready to get started.

“I know for me at least, it's a lot of motivation to go on,” Pierce said. “I really want to go on far this year. I don't know for anyone else, but I think as a team we're really motivated to keep going and make it there.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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