Penn-Trafford takes down Franklin Regional, reaches state playoffs for 1st time since ’90

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019 | 9:24 PM


Refreshed and refocused, Penn-Trafford quickly closed the door on a sour loss in the WPIAL softball semifinals and rebounded for a historically significant victory in the Class 5A third-place game.

Emma Little and Brooke Cleland each had two hits as the Warriors set the scene early and downed Franklin Regional, 6-2, Tuesday under dark clouds at Seton Hill to advance to the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 1990.

Yes, it’s been 29 years since the Warriors played in the state tournament.

“It’s been a while,” said Warriors coach Denny Little, who had recently graduated from Penn-Trafford and was playing at Pitt when the softball team last appeared in the PIAA bracket. “The mothers of the girls on this team played on that team.”

Penn-Trafford (19-2), which blew a four-run lead against Connellsville in the semifinals at Seton Hill before falling 10-4, had a 5-0 lead over Franklin Regional (13-9) after three innings.

The Warriors will play the champion from one of four possible districts: 6, 8, 9 or 10, on Monday, in the PIAA first round.

The Warriors, the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL playoffs, believe they are too talented to be done playing before June.

“We had to hit the reset button,” said Cleland, who went 2 for 3 with a double. “We knew if we got back to playing our game we’d be fine.”

Emma Armstrong and Jess Lichota also had doubles to help winning pitcher Morgan Hilty, who was pulled in the last game in the fifth with Penn-Trafford up 4-0. She went the distance this time, allowing seven hits with four strikeouts and one walk.

“This win is a tribute to all of our kids,” said Little, who tied for the Big East lead in home runs at Pitt in 1991. “I was devastated the other day and my assistants helped pick me up. We came out swinging.”

The win was the third in a row this season for Penn-Trafford over Franklin Regional, the third straight Section 1 opponent it faced in the postseason.

“We have mutual respect for one another and our programs,” Franklin Regional coach Jim Armstrong said of himself, Little and their teams. “P-T has some great hitters, but we thought we would be in the game with them.”

Franklin Regional, which lost 4-2 to two-time defending champion West Allegheny in the semifinals, cut the Warriors lead to 5-2 in the fourth on consecutive singles by Olivia Yurinko and Sara Cowell — and an error.

Yurinko pitched against Penn-Trafford in the teams’ second meeting and was effective in her varsity debut despite a 4-0 loss.

She was needed in the outfield, and Armstrong wanted to go with the pitcher who got the Panthers this far.

“We had a bet, my assistant and I,” Little said. “That he would start (Angalee) Beall.”

Beall, the Panthers workhorse in the circle, fell behind 3-0 in the first on a run-scoring single by Emma Armstrong, who scored twice, and a two-run double by Emma Little.

Lichota’s two-run double in the third made it 5-0 before Cleland’s insurance double to left-center gave the Warriors a 6-2 advantage.

“We knew we’d see (Beall),” Cleland said. “She likes to throw low so if we stayed on top of it we’d be able to hit her. It’s a great feeling to make it to states.”

After Mallory Halleck singled in the fifth, Hilty and her defense methodically retired seven in a row to end it. Halleck led the Panthers with two hits.

“We didn’t hit very well,” Armstrong said. “We’re not a big, excitable team; we’re very level. But I think if we don’t give up a couple hits early it might be a different story.”

Franklin Regional, which loses four seniors, was trying to make the state playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Penn-Trafford out-hit the Panthers, 9-7.

“We didn’t put on one of our big offensive displays,” Denny Little said, “but it was efficient, and we got it done.”

Check out an archived broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

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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