Martindale’s grand slam lifts North Allegheny past No. 1 Hempfield

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Thursday, March 28, 2019 | 9:10 PM


After missing last softball season with a knee injury, Rachel Martindale was anxious to get back on the field.

The North Allegheny senior shortstop, though, could have shelved what seems to have become her second-best sport. She is headed to Akron on a basketball scholarship. She was one of the top guards in the WPIAL this past season.

But for those who had forgotten how talented she was — and still is — in softball, Martindale offered a ringing reminder Thursday. She delivered a grand slam and had three hits to lead the Tigers to an 11-6 victory over No. 1- ranked Hempfield in Section 2-6A.

The game started late because North Allegheny’s bus was stuck in traffic on Route 30. The bus ride home was much less tense after an impressive win over the four-time defending WPIAL and three-time defending PIAA champions, who took a 5-3 lead into the fourth.

“I knew I wanted to play when I came back (from the injury),” said Martindale, who two years ago committed to play softball at Pitt before basketball took her in a different direction. “Just because I am going to college for basketball, that doesn’t change the love I have for softball.”

Martindale, a 1,300-plus-point scorer in basketball, capped a six-run fifth inning for the Tigers (2-0, 2-0), who also got a solo homer from sophomore Chloe Szczepaniak in the frame when the Tigers sent 11 batters to the plate and loaded the bases twice. Martindale cleared them on the first occasion with a blast down the left field line to make it 10-5.

“I kept saying, stay fair, stay fair,” said Martindale, who stole home earlier.

She had been walked in her two previous at-bats, the second time intentionally, so she knew the Spartans (1-2, 1-1) would have to face her straight up.

“What are you going to do there with Martindale?” Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said. “She hurt us. They really have some kids who can hit. I thought they’d score some runs. But if you told me we’d score six and get beat like that, no way.”

North Allegheny, which has four homers in two games, had not beaten the Spartans since 2014, a span of seven games.

“Our girls were painfully aware of that,” North Allegheny coach Morgan Vescovi said. “They brought their best today.”

Hempfield had not lost two games at home in a season since 2014. They lost to visiting Connellsville, 5-3, to open this year.

The Spartans have not had two losses in March since 2010.

The defeat spoiled a brilliant effort from Hempfield sophomore catcher Emma Hoffner, who went 4 for 4 and finished a double short of hitting for the cycle. Last year’s PIAA title-game hero tripled, homered and had two RBIs.

“We knew this would be a tough game,” Hoffner said. “It’s early and we are still trying to figure some things out.”

North Allegheny led 3-1 after a two-run single by winning pitcher Ashley Adams in the third. Hempfield scored four in the third as junior Olivia Persin ripped a two-run double to help build a 5-3 edge.

The Tigers tied it in the fourth as a Hempfield error on a fielder’s choice brought around one run, and a double-steal with Martindale taking home with two outs scored another.

“I am so proud of Rachel because she wasn’t able to play last year,” Vescovi said. “She is such a competitor in anything she does.”

Then came the grueling fifth for Hempfield. Szczepaniak led off with a solo shot, and two walks and an error allowed the Tigers to load the bases for Martindale. Her grand slam chased Hempfield starting pitcher Callie Sowers, a sophomore, and junior Kylie Saus came in and gave up a run on a wild pitch and it was 11-5.

Saus settled in late and only allowed two hits the rest of the way, while striking out five.

Hoffner’s solo homer made it 11-6 in the last of the seventh.

Kalp worked in a series of pinch-hitters late.

“I was disappointed in our defense,” Kalp said. “We expect to be pretty strong there. Hopefully, we can continue to get better and our pitching will come along. There are going to be a lot of good teams this year; not great ones, but good ones. So we have to be ready.”

Szczepaniak and Adams each had two hits for the Tigers.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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