Neshannock has Laurel’s number again in latest chapter of storied softball rivalry

Monday, June 10, 2024 | 9:57 PM

Even though Neshannock had won the previous nine matchups in the last three years against county rival Laurel, both teams knew the result of Monday’s PIAA Class 2A softball semifinal would be a coin flip.

They were correct, but maybe not in the way they expected.

After losing the pregame coin flip, Neshannock scored the only run of the game in the top of the first inning to defeat Laurel, 1-0, at Mohawk High School.

Neshannock (25-0) advances to the PIAA Class 2A championship game for the second time in the last three seasons. The Lancers also defeated Laurel (20-6) in the 2022 PIAA semifinals.

Neshannock will face South Williamsport (26-2), a 3-0 victor over Bald Eagle Area, in the state championship game on Friday morning at Penn State’s Beard Field.

On a mild, cloudy day, a steady drizzle began to fall as the teams went out for pregame warmups. The slick, all-turf field played to Neshannock’s advantage as the Lancers struck immediately in their first at-bat.

Miley Anderson bunted and reached on an error to lead off the game. She was sacrificed to second by Jaidon Nogay, stole third on a ball in the dirt and scored on a hard-hit ball by Addy Frye that was ruled an error.

“It’s such a tough feeling,” Neshannock coach Jackie Lash said, “thinking we have to go into this game with the toughest opponent knowing that they are going to get that last chance at bat. So whenever Miley got on base, I was feeling a little bit better right then.

“You have to score first against a team like this, and thankfully we did.”

That unearned run proved to be enough for Frye in the circle. The junior had 12 strikeouts in the one-hit shutout. It was the third consecutive game in the state playoffs that Frye allowed just one hit.

“My backdoor curve was working really well,” Frye said. “At the beginning of the game, my fastball wasn’t working, but towards the end, I fixed it and it started to work for me. I noticed I was slipping a little bit (in the first inning), so I had to go and make an adjustment.”

The elements played a role in the first couple of innings as Frye and Laurel ace Autumn Boyd went back and forth throughout the contest. Both teams had issues in the first inning, but improved as the rain subsided.

“I fully believe the wet turf got us in the first inning,” Laurel coach Frank Duddy said. “That’s the breaks. It is what it is. It’s just a shame that your whole season comes down to one run. We just didn’t hit. We’ve been pounding the ball lately, but we couldn’t get it done today.”

Laurel’s best chance of the game to score came in the home half of the first inning. Ivy Pancher led off with a walk, and Addie Deal was hit by a pitch. It was the only time the Spartans had multiple runners on base. However, Boyd lined out on a comebacker to the pitcher, and Frye got Riley Balcom to strike out to end the threat.

“We set the table. We just can’t push them across,” Duddy said. “That seems to be the story every time we play Neshannock. We can’t get that hit when we need it.”

Frye, a Providence commit, went over 200 strikeouts for the season in the game after surpassing 500 career strikeouts earlier in the postseason. After the two in the first, the only Spartan baserunners were from a Pancher single in the third and a Deal two-out walk in the sixth.

Boyd finished with a four-hitter of her own, giving up only the unearned run in the first inning.

“The story is offense,” Duddy said. “Autumn (Boyd) did a fantastic job in the circle, like she always does. She keeps us in it. She gives us a chance to win. I think we let her down a little bit.”

“To me, these are the top two teams in the state, and it starts with the pitching that each of us have,” Lash said. “Autumn (Boyd) kept us off balance. Every time we had an opportunity, she was able to shut it down. I think she is one of the best.”

Neshannock has now won 73 of its last 74 games. Its only loss in the last three years came in the PIAA semifinals a year ago, a 9-6 defeat to eventual state champion Everett. The loss has been a motivating factor for the Lancers over the past year, with celebrations muted throughout the year after victories. But with the early morning weather similar to the dreary day in DuBois a year ago, Frye and her teammates vowed to ensure the result would be different.

“None of us wanted to feel that again this year,” Frye said. “We used that for motivation. And it was the same weather conditions (as last year), so at the beginning of the game, we said that we wouldn’t let it get to us this year.”

Neshannock got a pair of two-out singles in the top of the seventh inning looking for insurance, but Frye’s courtesy runner Aleena Frengel was thrown out at third on Gabby Perod’s single to end the inning.

Frye took care of business in the bottom of the inning, giving the “little bit more” that the coaches asked for, striking out the side in order to end the game.

“Drive hard off the mound and give a little more (velocity) to the batter,” Frye explained. “And we got it done.”

In the past three seasons, Laurel is 55-5 against opponents not named Neshannock. However, the Spartans are now 0-10 against their Lawrence County rivals in that time, including 0-4 in the postseason. Even though the record is slanted in one direction, half of the contests were decided by three runs or less, with a pair of 1-0 wins and a pair of walk-off wins included.

“It’s electric (playing Neshannock). This atmosphere is fantastic. Just, you know, one time you’d like to come out on top,” Duddy said with a laugh. “It’s good for the community; it’s good for softball. The little ones see this, that’s the future of this game. That’s a great team over there. We wish them the best of luck.”

“It’s a very good competition,” Frye agreed. “I know that they’re going to give us their best fight, and we’re going to give them our best fight. And then after the game, there’s no hate or anything. It’s just friendly.”

Lash praised Laurel and its coaching staff, including crediting Duddy for coaching her daughter as the reason why Lash is coaching today.

“Frank Duddy is one of my favorite coaches of all time,” Lash said. “Both of the coaching staffs have a high respect for one another and a lot of respect among the girls.”

For Laurel seniors Boyd, Deal and Alexis Brua, their high school careers come to an end. Boyd (Youngstown State) and Deal (St. Francis) will continue their softball career in college, while Brua will wrestle at D’Youville.

“Going through the (handshake) line and had to see Addie (Deal) and Autumn (Boyd) knowing that’s the end of an era, we’ll never get to face them again,” Lash said. “While you hate playing against them, I’m a fan of softball and I love watching good players play.”

Duddy reflected on the past four years with this senior class.

“It sounds cliche, but it was a hell of a run,” he said. “Those girls have won a lot of softball games. We’ve been on the brink of a state title a couple of times. Nothing to hold their heads about. There are 100-some 2A teams out there watching, and we’re right here, and we’ve been here consistently. A lot of it is our seniors. They’re good ballplayers and good leaders who set a great example for our young players.”

For Neshannock, a return trip to Happy Valley after a year’s hiatus awaits. It is a trip that the Lancers have had on their mind since the semifinal defeat a year ago, with 25 business trips along the way to being “perfect.” They are now one win away from another undefeated state championship.

“We can’t take any team for granted and we need everybody to step up,” Lash said. “We practice hard and focus on fundamentals, still. The little things win big games. We’ll just continue. We won’t change a thing. We just need to figure out how to string those hits together more often throughout a game.”

Perhaps the best news for Neshannock for the trip to State College is they don’t have to worry about the rotation of currency before the game. The home team is pre-determined for the state title contests, with the teams on the bottom half of the bracket being the home team for this year’s championship games.

“I really suck at coin tosses,” Lash laughed. “At least I don’t have to make the call.”

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