Penn-Trafford softball keeps rolling, shuts out Albert Gallatin

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Monday, May 20, 2019 | 9:30 PM


Penn-Trafford moved its year-end softball banquet to next month for one simple reason: This season isn’t over yet.

Why stop to acknowledge the end when this could be just the beginning?

“Ever since last year, the feeling I had walking off the field after we lost to Thomas Jefferson, it was a lot of emotion that was spent the night before at a banquet,” Warriors coach Denny Little said. “The best thing to do was to delay that thing until after the WPIAL season is over. It’s a distraction.”

Top-seeded Penn-Trafford made quick work of Section 1 opponent Albert Gallatin in the teams’ third meeting of the season, ripping off a 10-0 victory in five innings Monday in a WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal playoff game at Seton Hill.

The game was shortened by the mercy rule.

The Warriors (18-1) advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2014 and will face No. 4 Connellsville (15-6) on Wednesday at a time and site to be determined. Connellsville edged No. 5 Trinity, 3-2.

Senior shortstop Morgan Nedley and sophomore center fielder Brooke Cleland each homered, and junior pitcher Morgan Hilty scattered five hits in the victory, which ended a string of four straight quarterfinal losses for the Warriors.

“We had the mindset that we needed to go into this game bigger for the reason we had not won a playoff game in a while,” said Nedley, who went 2 for 4 and drove in four runs against the ninth-seeded Colonials (11-8). “We wanted to give it all we had, from every single player, including the girls on the bench who were cheering.”

Maybe it was the beans.

Little’s forte is hitting, and he tries to find any nuance, not matter how slight, to improve his team’s bats. The latest are Great Northern Beans, which he pitches to his hitters in warmups. The tiny beans make for an offbeat and economical training tool.

“We changed our approach at the end of the season,” Little said. “We started over. We got them hitting the beans and focusing on the ball and doing your job.”

This game was a far cry from the teams’ previous two meetings and their 2017 quarterfinal that saw Albert Gallatin knock off then-No. 2 Penn-Trafford. The Warriors won a pair of one-run games in section play this season.

Playing at Seton Hill, Little said, took off some of the pressure. The Warriors won two regular-season games at Seton Hill, almost giving the turf venue a second-home feel.

The team walked off the field singing “Sweet Caroline” like they owned the place, partly because they knew how convincing the win was. Just hours after attending an all-section luncheon in Monroeville, the Warriors’ top players displayed their talents.

“We’re very comfortable here,” Little said. “I did not anticipate a 10-0 game. I’m thinking 10-9, maybe. AG is a top-hitting game. Hats off to Morgan Hilty. Are you kidding me? She just pitched her brains out.

“We’ve been preaching it’s a new season, and you’re 0-0 and you’re batting triple-zeros. You have to go make it count.”

Cleland’s two-run blast to left-center gave the Warriors an advantage in the first before two more runs crossed in the third, one via a wild pitch, the other on a run-scoring single by Nedley. Cleland scored three times.

Hilty’s RBI single gave the Warriors a five-run lead before they slammed the door on the Colonials with a five-run fifth, the highlight of which was a towering three-run homer to left-center by Nedley, an admitted bean picker.

“We love to hit,” Nedley said of the beans. “It makes you focus on a lot smaller parts than whenever you go into a game and try to hit the ball, you can focus on a smaller part of the ball and get more of it.”

Right fielder Emma Little and third baseman Jen Lichota scored on wild pitches by Maddy Flowers, who relieved starter Madison Hershberger in the fifth. The Colonials tallied five hit-by-pitches and the same number of runners left on base.

“Penn-Trafford is a really good team, and they played really well,” Albert Gallatin coach Larry Flowers said. “We’re a good team, too, but we played really bad. We couldn’t get hits. We hit (Hilty) during the season. I don’t know if we were nervous or what. We made a couple mistakes, and they hurt us.”

Penn-Trafford, with its reputation for hitting, run-ruled the Colonials with just six hits. But they were stingers.

The decided advantage allowed Hilty to settle in and get outs. While she did not record a strikeout, she only walked one and showed steady control.

“Offense killed the ball,” Hilty said. “Not only was it defense and offense, but our bench was so loud to get us in the game. It was amazing. It was a fight, a lot of enthusiasm.

“This was an amazing feeling, but we’ve got so much work to do … ready for the next game.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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