No previous PIAA softball playoffs experience necessary for Penn-Trafford
By: Dave Mackall
Sunday, June 9, 2019 | 6:15 PM
Unlike other Westmoreland County softball teams with recent appearances in the PIAA playoffs — Hempfield, Mt. Pleasant, Valley and Yough have won state championships this decade — Penn-Trafford is new to the scene.
The Warriors, with just one previous trip to the state tournament back in 1990, have burst into contention this year, rampaging all the way to the semifinals.
“I’m not gushing, yet,” Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little said prior to a trip to Mt. Aloysius on Monday to face District 3 runner-up Donegal for the right to play for a state title and possibly add to Westmoreland County’s impressive list of champions.
“We’ve still got some work to do.”
It’s been a steady climb to come within reach of the Class 5A pinnacle, a years-long marathon for Penn-Trafford (21-2), the WPIAL’s third-place team, which advanced Thursday with a 6-2 victory over WPIAL champion West Allegheny in the quarterfinals at Peters Township.
“It started when we formed our travel teams 10 years ago,” said Little, who is in his third year as coach at Penn-Trafford and sixth overall on the staff.
Little was serving as an assistant baseball coach at Penn-Trafford at the time of the travel teams’ inception in 2009. When his daughters started to play softball in the Penn-Trafford system, Little converted to the sport and hasn’t thought twice about his decision.
On Saturday, he spent the day at a tournament at IUP, where one of the travel teams, which included five sophomores on the high school roster, was competing.
“It’s just been a boost for us every year being able to play in the offseason, like we do,” Little said. “It’s something that had been missing in the past. They saw how successful it was in baseball, so it was something they wanted to start for softball, and it’s been great.”
Penn-Trafford and Donegal (24-2) are the Nos. 3- and 4-ranked Class 5A teams in the Trib HSSN’s PIAA rankings after both kept their seasons alive Thursday.
Donegal broke free in the sixth inning from a scoreless affair and went on to beat District 1 runner-up Bishop Shanahan in the quarterfinals at Millersville.
Can Penn-Trafford score yet another impressive victory, like the outcome against WPIAL champ West Allegheny, when sophomore Brooke Cleland hit two home runs?
Can the Warriors run the table by going all the way and doubling their PIAA victories total of one (vs. Carrick in 1990)?
“It’s never about who we’re playing,” Little said.
Donegal erupted for five runs in the sixth and added a pair in the seventh in the quarterfinals against Bishop Shanahan righthander Devon Miller, a Fordham recruit.
Donegal prevailed, despite striking out 17 times against Miller, whose Indians won a PIAA championship in 2017.
Penn-Trafford righthander Morgan Hilty presents the next challenge for Donegal.
“It’s been very gratifying to watch this group put things together this year, like they did,” Little said. “It’s been a product of a lot of work and lot of years of building this program to become a contender. Our travel teams have had a lot to do with that.”