Leechburg softball tops Jeannette for 3rd time, moves to semifinals

Monday, May 20, 2019 | 8:36 PM

Leechburg expected a tougher game from Jeannette in the WPIAL playoffs than what the Blue Devils saw from their section rival during the regular season.

The push came, but so did some mistakes, and Leechburg gladly took advantage.

A costly two-out error spurred Leechburg’s four-run second inning, and the No. 2 Blue Devils didn’t look back, posting an 8-1 victory over Jeannette in the WPIAL Class A softball quarterfinals Monday afternoon at Fox Chapel.

“Since we played them two times this season, we kind of knew what they had and what we could have pushed on,” said sophomore McKenna Pierce, who tripled twice and drove in three runs for Leechburg. “I think that we just took advantage of everything that they gave us, and we just scored.”

The victory put Leechburg (16-1) into the WPIAL semifinals for a third consecutive season, and the team will face No. 3 Union on Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.

Leechburg beat Jeannette, 10-0 and 21-2, during the Section 3-A season as the Blue Devils rolled to the title. But a sports adage speaks of the difficulty of playing an opponent for the third time, and Jeannette (9-6) pushed back this game.

“We don’t have much to change up with 13 kids,” Leechburg coach Debbie Young said. “We’re not going to be switching people around, and they didn’t really switch anyone around, either. … It was a good game. I was glad to see it.”

Jeannette pitcher Faith Johnston cracked a one-out RBI double in the top of the first inning to give her team a 1-0 lead. Pierce’s one-out triple in the bottom of the inning drove in Kristen Knapp to tie the score, but the real turning point came in the second.

With two outs and runners on second and third, Knapp lofted a pop fly to the infield that went off the glove of retreating shortstop Grace Johnston, allowing both runners to score. Olivia Shimer followed with an RBI single, and Pierce added another run-scoring triple to give the Blue Devils a multiple-run lead.

“We’ve been kind of preaching to (the team) that we could hang with them if we made the plays in the field,” Jeannette coach Zac Karas said. “We had an error in their four-run inning that we could have got out of the inning and ended up giving them four. That kind of put us behind the 8-ball, but I’m really proud of the way they battled.”

Playing for the first time in 12 days, the Blue Devils showed rust. Emma Ritchie walked four batters in the first two innings before settling down and striking out 12 in a complete-game effort. She allowed five hits and walked six.

The Blue Devils also put up their fourth-lowest run total of the season. But five of their eight hits went for extra bases, and they ran wild on the basepaths with eight stolen bases and several more advancements on wild pitches and passed balls.

“I think we definitely just came out and were really aggressive,” said Knapp, who doubled, tripled, scored two runs and knocked in another. “We knew that (Faith Johnston) was just throwing hard, fast pitches.”

Leechburg added an insurance run in the fourth on Knapp’s triple and two more in the sixth on a Pierce sacrifice fly and a wild pitch.

Faith Johnston went 3 for 4 and struck out seven. Five of the eight runs charged to her were unearned.

“It was a good season for them, considering we didn’t make playoffs last year and had no seniors,” Karas said. “We had nine girls come to the first meeting we had this year. To win a playoff game (and reach the quarterfinals) was a really great accomplishment.”

Leechburg, in the WPIAL playoffs for a 33rd consecutive season, will look to make it to the championship game for the first time since 2008.

“I think we had a pretty strong game,” Pierce said. “There’s always just some things that we could always improve, but I think we’re solid.”

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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