Penn-Trafford rallies to semifinal win over Chartiers Valley

Tuesday, May 24, 2022 | 9:27 PM

This wasn’t calculated. Nothing about it was based on analytics. And it had nothing to do with what was written on a wrist band.

What Penn-Trafford softball coach Denny Little and his staff did in the fifth inning Tuesday was pure, unscripted feel — as good as drawing up a football play in the dirt.

“It’s all gut,” Little said after his second-seeded Warriors rallied for a patchworked 3-2 victory over No. 11 Chartiers Valley in a lengthy WPIAL Class 5A semifinal at West Mifflin. “It’s about ebbs and flows. Who is going to step up in that moment?”

Little interrupted the flow of a dwindling game and used back-to-back pinch-hitters to open the fifth with his team trailing 2-1. It paid off greatly as junior Alexa Forsythe and freshman Lorryn Sepe delivered hits before an error allowed the go-ahead run to score for the Warriors (18-2), who advance to the WPIAL title game for the first time.

They will take on No. 1 Armstrong (19-4), the returning WPIAL and PIAA runner-up, next Thursday at Cal (Pa.). The start time will be announced later.

“This is a big step for our program,” Little said. “We haven’t played for a WPIAL title before. I am excited for our girls.”

About that fifth inning, when Little reached down his bench, reconfigured the bottom of his lineup and found the spark he was looking for …

Forsythe, who hit a home run off the bench in a first-round win over Plum, ripped a double off the fence this time to start the deciding rally.

Sophomore courtesy runner Lauren Burkley stole third, and Sepe followed with a sharp single to left to tie the Colts, 2-2.

“We scrapped those runs together, and that’s OK,” Little said. “I always tell the girls, be ready. We had to make something happen there.”

Little went to Forsythe and Sepe to change things up against Colts junior pitcher Zoe Mangan, who limited the brunt of the Warriors order.

Mangan did not throw as fast as some of the pitchers Penn-Trafford has faced in recent weeks. The Warriors managed seven hits, but nobody had more than one.

“She was throwing slower, and I knew I had my two best JV hitters on the bench,” Little said. “(Mangan) kept us off balance. Forsythe smacks the ball. And Sepe had a great day at practice (Monday).”

With the score tied and no outs in the fifth, junior shortstop Kylee Piconi bunted for a single and sophomore Mack Keenan bunted her to second.

After a flyout for the second out, freshman third baseman Cam Ponko grounded to second, but Colts first baseman Marie Kinchington couldn’t hold on to the throw despite a stretched-out effort and the Warriors took a 3-2 lead.

“Piconi’s bunt, that was a big play there,” Little said. “Their second baseman wasn’t there. And to have our No. 3 hitter (Keenan) bunt … it’s about playing your role.”

Forsythe batted for junior Emma Hauck, and Sepe for junior leadoff hitter Bri Pusateri. Hauck and Pusateri were a combined 0 for 4.

“Coach knows what he is doing,” Forsythe said “We trust him. We want to come in and do what we can for the team. This was an exciting game.”

Said Sepe, who has about 20 at-bats this season: “I was definitely nervous, but Kylee (Piconi) told me it was OK and to go in and swing the bat.”

With the lead in hand, the Warriors could lean on senior pitcher Mia Smith, who overcame a slow start and worked into full counts all afternoon, facing several drawn-out at-bats and ended up throwing 149 pitches.

She struck out 10, including Kinchington, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning, to end the game.

Smith also caught sophomore third baseman Marta Gualazzi (2 for 3) looking in the 1-2-3 seventh. Smith didn’t allow a hit after the fourth and retired the final 10 hitters, six via strikeout.

She wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the third.

Chartiers Valley had some great hitters,” Little said. “They are going to give teams fits (in the state playoffs). They gave us incredibly good competition.”

Chartiers Valley (15-5), which lost in the semis for the second straight year, also had seven hits. Senior catcher Gianna Welsh doubled, and freshman Taylor Walsh also was 2 for 3.

The Colts left seven on base. They will play North Hills (16-4) on Thursday in the WPIAL third-place game.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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