Neshannock softball caps undefeated season with state championship

Friday, June 17, 2022 | 3:51 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK — At the beginning of the spring season, Neshannock softball was barely on anybody’s radar in the state. The Lancers were not in any state or district rankings and had not even made the state tournament in eight years.

Three months later, they’re undefeated state champions.

Neshannock defeated Conwell-Egan, 4-1, in the PIAA Class 2A championship game Friday at Penn State’s Beard Field to improve to 26-0 for the year.

It was the second state title for Neshannock softball and the third state championship for the school this year. The Lancers also took state gold in girls basketball and competitive spirit. The baseball team earned silver medals on Thursday.

“It’s been so much more than I could ever dream for,” said senior Neleh Nogay, who was also on the state championship basketball team. “Great ending, great senior year. It was perfect.”

It was also the second state gold for her sister Aaralyn, who was not surprised by the success of their hard-working teams this year.

“We’ve had great teams this whole season,” the junior said. “We’ve had teams that like to put in extra work and do the extra things. I think that really paid off.”

It was certainly a hard-working game for Neshannock against a Conwell-Egan (14-10) team that had won 10 straight District 12 championships. It was the first time a team from the Philadelphia Catholic League had made it to the PIAA championship game.

Conwell-Egan jumped early in the top of the first inning on freshman pitcher Addy Frye. Cassidy Blaskop drew a one-out walk, and after a fly out, Alana Sesar singled and Laurel Bretzel was hit by a pitch to load the bases. However, Frye was able to get Bella Palmer to ground out to end the inning and leave the bases full of Eagles.

“I think I was a little nervous in the beginning,” Frye said. “I was trying to guide the ball more than just driving off of the mound. By the end of the game, I was starting to throw my game again.”

The Lancers offense, which averages just shy of 10 runs per game, responded with a big inning of its own in the bottom of the first. Aaralyn Nogay drove a one-out double to the wall, and Frye reached on an error. Hunter Newman then drilled the first pitch she saw past the shortstop to reach on an error, scoring Nogay.

After a fielder’s choice, Gabby Perod drove in Frye with a two-out single to give Neshannock a 2-0 lead after one.

After both teams were retired in order in the second, Conwel-Egan’s top of the order delivered in the top of the third. Ang Bresnen, the only senior in the lineup for the Eagles, led off with an opposite-field double. After Blaskop sacrificed her to third, Katey Brennan singled to right to score Bresnen and cut the deficit to 2-1. Brennan, the PCL player of the year, advanced to third on the play when the ball got past Jadyn Malizia in left field.

Sesar then grounded to Aaralyn Nogay at shortstop, who looked Brennan back at third before firing across the diamond to get the out at first base. Brennan tried to score on the throw, but Newman fired the ball home and got Brennan out at the plate by two steps to get the double play.

“Our girls throw the ball quick and they throw the ball hard and on target,” Neshannock coach Jackie Lash said. “That double play was nothing surprising to me. We are constantly going first to home. All the hard work and everything we do, it pays off because situational things are going to come up, especially in a big game like this.

Neshannock had its own bases-loaded opportunity in the bottom of the third, but four consecutive fantastic plays at third base by Cecilia McBeth kept the Lancers off of the scoreboard.

After Newman grounded out to third, the Lancers had runners on first and third with one one. Gabby Quinn roped a ball that nearly took the glove off of McBeth. She couldn’t hold the ball, and Quinn reached on the infield single to load the bases.

Gabby Perod, in the next at-bat, hit an identical ball that McBeth was again able to knock down. Shortstop Molly Milewski corralled the deflected ball and fired home to retire Aaralyn Nogay. Ali Giordano then hit another hot shot to McBeth, who calmly stepped on the bag to end the inning.

The Lancers extended their lead in the bottom of the fifth. After Newman belted a one-out double off of the base of the fence, Quinn drove an 0-2 pitch deep over the left field fence for a two-run home run. Her sixth home run of the season provided some much-needed insurance for Neshannock.

“She was throwing strikes over and over again,” Quinn said of Sesar, the opposing pitcher. “I knew that I couldn’t let any go by and I had to be aggressive at the plate. My batting coach … said to just swing through the ball. The first three pitches, I had noticed myself trying to chop at it, and I said, ‘Just let loose,’ and I swung through it.”

Neshannock batters struggled against Sesar at times and were out in front of many of her pitches for weakly hit grounders.

“Waiting back on the ball (was the issue),” Quinn said. “It was hard going from Autumn Boyd to seeing somebody like this. (Sesar) is still a very good pitcher, but it’s hard to adjust the timing.”

Conwell-Egan again threatened in the sixth. Blaskop and Brennan both reached base to lead off the inning. Frye then struck out Sesar and Bretzel, her first two strikeouts of the game. Palmer then drove a ball that deflected off of Frye’s glove in the circle. She was able to recover and throw out the lead runner going to third base, apparently ending the inning.

After the teams left the field, however, the umpires met in the pitcher’s circle to discuss a potential obstruction call. After the deflection, shortstop Aaralyn Nogay ran forward to try to make a play on the ball. When she did, she collided with Blaskop running to third base. After a five-minute discussion, including guidance from the head of the umpires, they ruled obstruction and continued the inning.

“We could all understand it,” Lash said of the obstruction call. “We’re not going to argue it. You could look at it two ways. The ball hit off of Addy’s glove, so Aaralyn starts to charge forward because she could potentially make the play on the ball. Well, then Addy picks it up and makes the play. Aaralyn as she did move, there was a slight bump with the runner, so that’s where the obstruction call came in.

“I questioned it and just asked that our player was potentially making a play on a missed ball. And they said, ‘Well, she didn’t make the play.’ We’ll accept that.”

Frye came back out on the field and struck out McBeth to again leave the bases loaded.

“We just told the girls to go out there and make the last out,” Lash said. “I know they were fired up. If there’s something that fires Addy up, the girls always say that mad Addy is way better than regular Addy. And you know what, mad Addy showed it.”

“When they overruled the call, it just gave me a lot of urge to throw harder,” Frye said. “I just knew I had to relax and back up my team. They back me up when I’m hitting, so I have to back them up in the field.”

Frye retired the side in order in the bottom of the seventh to end the game and start the celebration. She allowed four hits, striking out three and walking one in the complete game performance for her 20th win of the season.

“Strikeouts were low today, but we were able to make the plays,” Lash said. “I always say that a team can ride their pitcher, but we’re also going to make the plays when we have to on defense.”

Frye and Quinn led the way again. The freshmen have helped jump-start an already talented and young Lancer team that has only one senior on the roster.

“I wish we could just take out the grade levels whenever we talk about these players,” Lash said. “Freshmen, yeah, sure, but those two girls have the softball IQ of some girls that are playing in college. They know what needs to be done. They go up there calm and ready to drive the ball.”

Neleh Nogay, a Fordham commit and the only senior on the Neshannock roster, said this championship was extra special being able to share it with Aaralyn and their father, Don, who is an assistant.

Aaralyn agreed that this championship meant a lot and especially enjoyed winning the last game with her older sister, but that does not mean there has not been thinking about next season and making a return trip to State College.

“I feel like there’s a good possibility (of being back),” Aaralyn Nogay said. “I think we’re going to be a really strong team next year, especially with the freshmen we have coming up. I’m excited to see what happens.”


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