Leechburg softball snatches section title from St. Joseph

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 | 11:09 PM

St. Joseph was eyeing a historic win for its program against one of the most successful in WPIAL softball history.

Leechburg didn't let it happen.

The Class A No. 4 Blue Devils jumped out to a four-run lead after two innings and rolled to an 8-1 victory over St. Joseph on Tuesday, securing the outright Section 3-A championship and denying the Spartans a share of their first title.

“I did not want to give them that piece,” said senior pitcher Morgan Pierce, who pitched a five-hitter to give Leechburg its second consecutive section title and third in four years. “This will be my third year doing this, winning the section, and it just means a lot. I knew they were coming for us … and I knew what was going to happen and so I just had to be ready for it.”

Leechburg holds the WPIAL record for the most consecutive playoff appearances, having clinched its 32nd berth in a row last week. St. Joseph made the playoffs for the first time last season and was seeking another step in its growth Tuesday, but it wasn't to be.

“They're solid all the way through, and we gave them the best we could tonight,” St. Joseph coach Dan Edgar said. “Maybe we'll run into them again in the playoffs, and we'll see what happens.”

The first two innings made the difference as Leechburg wrested early control of the game and never looked back.

The Blue Devils (12-3, 11-1), whose 20-game section winning streak ended last week against Bishop Canevin, scored three runs in the first inning and one more in the second as they took advantage of St. Joseph fielding errors and sharp baserunning.

“Usually we play a little bit of a catch-up game, and today we started out strong,” senior Daesha Knight said. “And that followed through to the rest of the game and helped us to the end.”

St. Joseph had a chance to escape the first inning unscathed, but Leechburg scored three runs with two outs: on a fielder's choice that resulted in no outs, followed by consecutive RBI singles by Emma Ritchie and Aubry Skeel. McKenna Pierce's run-scoring double in the second inning made it 4-0.

That proved more than enough for Morgan Pierce, who yielded just Anna Swierczewski's leadoff homer in the bottom of the fourth inning. The senior, a four-year starter, struck out three and walked one.

“Today, I really needed my defense,” Pierce said. “I just needed to do my job. My job was to get the ball to my defense so they could make the plays for me. I can't strike everyone out anymore, so I need to have my defense behind me, and we have a pretty strong defense.”

Three St. Joseph errors helped Leechburg score two more runs in the fifth inning on a Ritchie RBI single and Hannah Berry's groundout, and Skeel and Keira Jones had run-scoring singles in the seventh.

Eight Leechburg players had hits, led by Ritchie with three. Kristen Knapp and Skeel added two apiece, and Ritchie and Skeel had two RBIs each.

“It's about putting the ball into play and seeing what happens,” Leechburg coach Debbie Young said. “It's the team that makes the least errors (that) wins. That's my opinion.”

That certainly was the case Tuesday. St. Joseph (10-3, 9-3), which finished the section season in a second-place tie with Riverview, committed seven errors.

“Every time we play Leechburg, the girls get tight,” Edgar said. “They want to beat them so bad, and they just can't get loose. It is what it is.

“The girls are very confident in their abilities. They're in a good mood. Second place, we'll take it two years in a row.”

Swierczewski had three of St. Joseph's five hits, and Alex Jones added a seventh-inning triple.

With its latest section title in hand, Leechburg awaits the WPIAL playoff brackets that will come out later this week. The Blue Devils finished a win shy of the PIAA tournament last season after losing in the WPIAL semifinals and consolation game.

“We have a fairly young team, and we replaced a lot of players from last year with freshmen,” Young said. “I'm proud, and I'm pleased, and I think we're ready to go.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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