Playoff win proves emotional for North Hills softball

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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Faced with a frighteningly similar situation as a year ago, the North Hills softball team showed the resiliency that’s been a year in the making.

Last season, the Indians were upset by No. 12 seed South Fayette in the WPIAL’s opening round of the Class 5A postseason. The loss stunned a North Hills group that felt like it had the talent for a deep run.

On May 13, an even greater upset was more than brewing late into the game, as No. 15 seed Mars jumped out to a 5-0 lead before the Indians managed their first hit of the game.

Mars led 8-5 as North Hills stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Suddenly, as they’ve been for much of the season, the Indians’ bats got hot.

Savannah Bodnar doubled in a run to cut the deficit to 8-6. Natalie Anzaldi plated two with a triple and Kaylee Bischoff singled to give North Hills the walk-off win.

“That was a trip, man,” said coach Libby Gasior. “Mars came out ready to take that game and we spent four innings trying to get it back. We had one inning of performance with the bats to do it. They were all over us.”

The win capped a wildly emotional few days for the Indians, particularly pitcher Abby Sutton, who lost her grandfather just a couple of days prior.

“They were very close,” Gasior said, adding that they dedicated the game to him. “He was at every game, in North Hills gear, the whole bit. He was sick, but it was unexpected. It was difficult to be a part of.

“But she battled out of it. We said to her, ‘Hey, you’ve got us off the hook so many times. Let us get you off the hook this time.’ And it worked out that way.”

The game undeniably led to a sigh of relief for the Indians, who avoided a second straight heartbreaking end to a season.

“It’s not out of the ordinary for us to spot a few runs,” said Gasior. “But when we were down four, and then five runs and we hadn’t gotten a hit yet … our kids started to press. They just wanted it so bad and we started making some bad decisions with the bat. You can’t fault them for that.

“But we started to put the ball in play, and they realized that we could do it.”

Gasior was confident that a big inning could come, simply based on history. North Hills averaged over 8.5 runs per game in the regular season.

“We were hitting with great contact, but right at people,” she said. “We just kept preaching that something was going to break and it did.”

It also got them back into the win column following a rough finish to the regular season in which North Hills lost to Avonworth and Laurel in nonsection play, ending a dominant nine-game winning streak.

That has been due, in part, to injuries and multiple players either playing out of position or being unexpectedly forced into the lineup.

“It has been a very strange end here,” Gasior said. “We had a ton of momentum and then had an injury. … That’s just kind of how we’ve done it. They’ve filled in and each person who has gotten at-bats has made a difference.”

And that’s how the year started for North Hills, which finished 13-4 in the regular season. Sutton was thrust into the starting pitching role — moving out from the catching position — due to an injury to starter Alexa Edmunds.

So the first-round victory, especially coming off of last year’s defeat, carried perhaps a bit more meaning for the Indians than your typical 2-over-15-seed playoff result.

“I was so happy for them to get that win for (Sutton) and for themselves after what happened last year,” Gasior said. “Even if we had lost, I would’ve been so proud of them for coming all the way back and doing what they did.”

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