North Allegheny plays near-perfect game to knock off Pine-Richland in 6A semifinals

Wednesday, May 25, 2022 | 10:10 PM

North Allegheny softball coach Morgan Vescovi made a list of five goals for her team to accomplish in Wednesday’s Class 6A semifinal against Pine-Richland.

At the top was to put pressure on the Rams early, and her Tigers did just that.

They scored twice in the top of the first and with a strong performance by pitcher Anne Melle, the rest fell into place from there.

Melle hit a two-run homer in the top of the third and pitched a three-hitter, helping the seventh-seeded Tigers advance to the WPIAL championship game with a 5-1 win over No. 3 Pine-Richland at Mars.

North Allegheny will play Seneca Valley in the Class 6A final Wednesday, June 1 at Cal (Pa.)’s Lilley Field.

It was a near-perfect day for the Tigers, who lost twice to the Rams in the regular season and snapped a five-game losing streak against their rivals.

“We wanted to bring energy and make them respond,” Vescovi said. “If we’re proactive, that makes it easier on us. We hit all five goals. We didn’t execute a couple bunts, but that’s fine. It didn’t have to be a perfect game, but this was close. It was as good as we’ve played all season. We’ll let those bunts slide.”

Meghan McDonough led off the game with an infield single. McKenna Rowlands followed with a single and Alaina Whipkey walked to load the bases with no one out. McDonough scored on a wild pitch and Rowlands came home on a sacrifice fly by Melle.

Pine-Richland got a lead-off double by June McCune in the second, but her courtesy runner, Delaney Jamison, was later thrown out at home plate on a ground ball to shortstop by Whipkey.

The big inning occurred for the Tigers in the third. McDonough again beat out a ground ball for an infield single and scored on a two-out double by Reagan Dietrick.

Melle followed with a homer to right center to make it 5-0.

“I knew that (Rams pitcher Gabriella Aughton) was going to pitch me outside, because on my first at-bat, I popped up on an inside pitch,” Melle said. “I just threw my hands out there and hoped it went out. It felt really good because she is a very good pitcher.”

Melle’s homer proved to be a gut punch for the Rams.

“I think they caught us off guard at the beginning,” Pine-Richland coach Sam Hartzberg said. “Then I made a few bad pitch calls and they were ready for them. They jumped on them.”

Pine-Richland got its lone run in the sixth on an RBI groundout by Iliana Aggelou that scored Calle Henne.

Melle allowed only six baserunners all game and caught two hard-hit lineouts. Right fielder Carlyn Vaupel caught the last two outs of the game, including a diving catch that robbed Alexia Brown of extra bases.

Melle was the first to greet Vaupel after she caught the final out.

“I wouldn’t want to play for a championship with any other group of girls,” Melle said. “They’re amazing. I love them all and I’m just stoked to go play.”

Pine-Richland will say goodbye to eight seniors, including starters Aughton, a Boston College recruit, Brown, Natalie Zentz and Ella Kasperowicz. The Rams made the semifinals for the second time in a row after going 25 years without a playoff win.

“Overall it was a great experience,” Hartzberg said. “We have some really good seniors that are going to produce at the next level. It was an honor to coach them. Some of our younger players coming up are really good ballplayers, so we expect to be back here again next year.

“It was a completely new experience for me coaching high school compared to the travel ball world. Every game is much more intense and meaningful. You want to win for the school, the parents and the kids. They worked hard to get here, but it just didn’t happen for us today.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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