Leechburg softball team ready for 2019 PIAA rematch

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Sunday, June 6, 2021 | 4:33 PM


For the second time in as many seasons, the Leechburg softball team survived a pressure situation in the WPIAL consolation final to earn a trip the PIAA playoffs.

This time, South Side fell victim to a Blue Devils team that roared back from a tough Class 1A semifinal loss. Leechburg’s 10-3 victory over the Rams on May 27 at Mars High School propelled it into the state tournament for the seventh time since 2004.

Senior right fielder and co-captain Sky Raypush says the team is ready for the challenge presented by Monday’s game, a rematch from 2019 against District 9 champion DuBois Central Catholic.

“The team really came together strong after we lost the (WPIAL) semifinal game to Union,” Raypush said.

“We’re just anxious to get back on the field and hopefully keep this season going.”

This is the longest Leechburg (13-5) has gone between games this season. When the team takes the field at 4 p.m. Monday at Heindl Field in DuBois, 11 days will have passed since the consolation final.

Leechburg took a couple of days off after the win over South Side and returned to practice Tuesday in preparation for Monday against Cardinals.

“It was definitely good to have a little bit of rest,” said senior co-captain Emma Ritchie, who leads Leechburg in the pitching circle with an 8-3 record, 66 strikeouts and a 4.67 ERA over 51 innings pitched.

“It was a great win against South Side, but we put that one behind us quickly.”

The Blue Devils hope this year’s matchup with DCC ends better than the 2019 PIAA first-round contest, a 14-4 loss in six innings.

The Cardinals were an offensive juggernaut in 2019, and they have proven to be that way again this year as they average 13.5 runs.

“They are a very strong team again, and we respect that,” said senior shortstop McKenna Pierce, a Carlow commit.

“But we have so much confidence that we can go up there and get the job done. We’ve been focusing a lot on what we can do to be better. We’ve worked together so well this season and have rolled with the punches to be the best we can be.”

After earning a bye past the WPIAL first round, Leechburg cruised past Mapletown 9-3 in the quarterfinals, setting up a semifinal rematch with No. 3 Union from 2019.

However, the Blue Devils were not able to overtake the Scotties in a 7-2 setback. The consolation game came two days later.

With its back against the wall and the high school careers of the six seniors on the line, Leechburg took an early 4-0 lead over South Side, combining some offense with a couple of Rams errors.

The Blue Devils broke the game open with a six-run fourth inning highlighted by a grand slam from sophomore first baseman/pitcher Anna Cibik.

“We went into the (semifinal) game with Union kind of expecting to win because we felt this was our year to do it, and we were the higher seed,” Ritchie said.

“After that loss, we knew we had to come back quickly and be ready to play against South Side. We still had a lot to play for. We understood the situation having been there (in the third-place game) two years ago. We played as a team and came away with the win.”

“We weren’t ourselves against Union, so it felt really good to be ourselves in the consolation game and get back to the way things had been,” senior second baseman Madison Hanan said.

Cibik has been a dependable bat in the Leechburg lineup, hitting .385. She also has been a pitching complement to Ritchie in the circle with a 3-2 record, 35 strikeouts and a 2.46 ERA over 31 1/3 innings of work.

Of Leechburg’s five losses this season, one came at the hands of WPIAL Class 3A champion Mt. Pleasant and another was to Class 3A playoff qualifier Deer Lakes.

The other regular-season setbacks were to Class 3A semifinalist Southmoreland and to section rival Springdale in a walk-off.

“We don’t want this season to end,” Pierce said.

“This season has been so much fun, and this team enjoys being together so much. We are excited to see how far we can go.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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