Leechburg softball hopes to overcome semifinal hurdle against Union

Tuesday, May 21, 2019 | 5:59 PM

Leechburg scored runs seemingly at will as it tore through the regular season and won a third consecutive Section 3-A championship, but the Blue Devils saw quickly the difference the playoffs can bring.

Although the final numbers still looked strong — five extra-base hits in an 8-1 WPIAL quarterfinal victory over Jeannette — they still paled to much of what Leechburg did during the regular season, when the team reached double-digit runs 13 times in 16 games.

And it gave the second-seeded Blue Devils (16-1) just the latest reminder that nothing will come easily this time of year.

“I think we’re a little selfish (as coaches) because we went through some games during the season scoring really high, so I think we all as coaches are looking for those high-scoring games,” coach Debbie Young said. “But you can’t come into the playoffs thinking, oh, it’s just going to be the same way it was the last two times that we played them. Overall, I thought that was a good game, and I give (Jeannette) kudos.”

Leechburg, which will play No. 3 Union (11-5) in the semifinals Wednesday, is attempting to make it to the championship game for the first time since 2008.

Whether it was rust from a 12-day layoff caused by a first-round bye, a strong effort by a Jeannette team that the Blue Devils beat twice during the regular season, or some combination of the two, the Blue Devils didn’t play their best game in the quarterfinals. They’re hoping the best is yet to come.

“I think there was some rust, but I think we pushed on and we got all together and we just really pushed through and won the game,” sophomore McKenna Pierce said. ”I think that we were all so anxious to play this game today. We just wanted to be able to put our best out there and do as best as we can.”

No better model for program consistency exists than Leechburg, which is competing in its WPIAL-record 33rd consecutive postseason. But this batch of Blue Devils also knows that nothing will get handed to them.

Each of the past two seasons Leechburg advanced to the WPIAL semifinals. Both trips ended in a loss, followed by another defeat in the WPIAL consolation game. The Blue Devils would like a championship, but they need semifinal success first.

“This team is really close, so we have a lot of motivation,” senior Kristen Knapp said. “I think that motivation will push us to the finals.”

Several Leechburg starters played in last season’s semifinal loss to Monessen. A few were there the year before when the team fell to West Greene.

“It’s no different than any other game,” Young said. “That’s just it. Those (Union) girls are no different than we are, they’re just in a different section. It’s just one game at a time, that’s all you can do. Any given day, anybody can win.”

Jeannette provided a familiar opponent in the quarterfinals, which presented a challenge for Leechburg. Union represents a wholly different task.

The Scotties, coming off an 11-1 quarterfinal win over Springdale, beat Leechburg, 8-7, in last season’s WPIAL consolation game. The Blue Devils trailed 8-0 in that game before mounting a big rally, but Union ultimately pulled out the win.

Pierce said Leechburg can take plenty from its own performance against Jeannette. Sophomore Emma Ritchie, the Blue Devils’ first-year starting pitcher, overcame early wildness to strike out 12 batters. The offense used aggressive baserunning and timely extra-base hits to score eight runs, and the defense committed just one error behind Ritchie.

“(The quarterfinal) wasn’t an easy game, and it proved we’re here to stay,” Pierce said. “I think every time we play Jeannette, it always takes us a couple times to get in and swing the bat and stuff, but I think going on to the next game, we’ll start early and jump on them early.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


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