Leechburg softball focused on consolation prize

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Sunday, May 26, 2019 | 6:10 PM


Leechburg softball coach Debbi Young has found it can be tough at times to get a team energized for a consolation game after a difficult loss in the semifinals, but she doesn’t foresee that being a problem with her current group.

Considering this is the Blue Devils’ third straight year in the consolation game and they have lost the past two, this team is ready to put one in the win column and advance to the state playoffs.

“This year’s group of girls wants it really badly,” Young said. “We had practice on Thursday and looking at their faces, they definitely don’t want to be done. They’re sick of losing in the semifinals and then losing in the consolation game, so the focus is there. I think we should be OK.”

The second-seeded Blue Devils face No. 5 Jefferson-Morgan (11-7) in the Class A consolation game at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Peters Township.

The winner advances into the PIAA bracket, and the loser sees its season come to an end.

Leechburg (16-2) has made the WPIAL postseason 33 consecutive years, but last advanced to the state playoffs in 2009.

The Blue Devils hoped to clear the semifinal hurdle last week, but lost for the third straight year, this time to No. 3 Union, 5-3. Now they have another hurdle in front of them.

Leechburg had a late rally fall short in an 8-7 loss to Union in last year’s consolation game and dropped a 3-2 decision to Carmichaels two years ago.

One of the keys to Leechburg’s success has been strong hitting throughout the lineup. Aubrey Skeel (.510), McKenna Pierce (.500), Kiera Jones (.468), Emma Ritchie (.450), and Kristen Knapp (.434) are all hitting better than .400. That’s over half the lineup card.

Ritchie has a 1.74 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 88 1/3 innings.

Young said her team wasn’t able to get the key hits in the loss to Union, which was a big factor. She is confident her team will get back on track.

Over half of the Blue Devils roster played in a travel ball tournament at Penn-Trafford over the weekend, which Young saw as a positive.

“We’ve had a little thinness hitting in the last couple games, so I hope we have worked that out,” Young said. “I have seven girls playing travel ball all weekend. That’s their practice this weekend. It’s nice. They’ll get a lot of reps in front of live pitching, which is something that we can’t replicate in practice.”

Jefferson-Morgan hadn’t had a playoff win since its 2015 WPIAL championship season until this spring. The Rockets lost to fellow Greene County school West Greene, 15-0, in the semifinals.

The Rockets have only two seniors and are led by junior Cait Dugan.

Dugan struck out nine and allowed two hits in a 15-1 win over Rochester in five innings in the first round. She was also 3 for 3 with a pair of RBIs.

Young said she doesn’t know too much about the Rockets, which is by design. Typically in the past she would try to dig up as much information as possible on an unfamiliar opponent, but she’s changed her approach this year and it’s worked so far.

“We played some nonsection games that we had no clue what we were getting into and we fared pretty well,” Young said. “One of them was Greensburg Salem. We thought it was going to be a tough game against a bigger school that would help us going into playoffs and we went in and played so well against them (in a 5-3 win). I’m going to use the same mindset that we used into that game. Sometimes the unknown can be better than what you think you know.”

The Blue Devils are more focused on execution than scouting. If they play a clean game, they feel they have a good opportunity to advance.

“It’s on the girls shoulders and they’re all quite capable,” Young said. “I trust them. I tell them all the time that I believe in them and they have to believe in themselves. I’m excited for the opportunity and I know our girls are too.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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