Ritchie hits, pitches Leechburg past Jefferson-Morgan in WPIAL Class A consolation game

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 | 7:26 PM

The old adage about a pitcher helping herself rang true Tuesday for Leechburg’s Emma Ritchie.

The sophomore drove in the tying and winning runs on groundouts to third base as the Blue Devils edged Jefferson-Morgan, 3-2, to win the WPIAL Class A softball consolation game.

Leechburg (17-2) advances to the PIAA tournament for the first time in 10 years. On Monday, the Blue Devils will play the winner of Wednesday’s District 9 final between Clarion and DuBois Central Catholic.

With the score knotted at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, McKenna Pierce led off with a double that nearly cleared the left-field fence at a makeshift layout on a football grid at Peters Township’s Pleasant Valley Complex.

Ritchie then hit a bouncer to third baseman Payton Wright, who threw to first while Pierce scampered home.

“I’ve been in kind of a slump,” Ritchie said. “I was just looking for contact today. I’m glad I got that winning run home.”

Ritchie’s day wasn’t done, however.

In the seventh with one out, Rockets leadoff hitter Jasmine Demaske was safe at first after Ritchie had trouble handling a comebacker.

The speedy Demaske quickly stole second, but Ritchie struck out Abby Ankrom on a 3-2 pitch that clipped the inside corner.

Said Ritchie: “I was thinking no walk, no walk at all. If I would have walked her, that wouldn’t have been good. I wanted her to hit it because I knew my teammates could field it.”

“That is our game plan,” Leechburg coach Debbi Young said of the pitch-to-contact philosophy. “Defensively, we’re clean. So that’s all she needs to do. Put it in play, and we’re good to go.”

Caitlyn Dugan then grounded to third to end the game and finish Jefferson-Morgan’s season at 11-8.

“Good game,” Rockets coach Rich Rush said. “It was going to be whoever basically got the timely hit and didn’t make mistakes. Today, they made a couple of mistakes but got the timely hit.”

Jefferson-Morgan struck quickly in the first as Demaske singled, stole second, went to third on Ankrom’s bunt and came home on Dugan’s single.

In the second, Madelyn Van Divner reached on a leadoff single, stole second and took third as the throw went into center field. Van Divner scored on Savannah Clark’s grounder to second.

Rush pointed to midseason when the Rockets adopted a small-ball regimen.

“We started doing that halfway through the season and stuck with it,” Rush said. “It worked, so we stuck with it, and we said we’d do it until someone could stop it.”

Leechburg tied the score in the fourth when Kristen Knapp led off with a ground-rule double to deep right. Knapp took third on Olivia Shimer’s single, and both runners moved up an overthrow from right field.

Pierce flied to short left field. Knapp tagged and scored when the throw glanced off her helmet.

“Kristen’s been struggling a little recently and wanted to get up there and hit the ball,” Young said. “It’s a nice feeling to go to the states. I’ve been waiting for five years.”

Shimer took third on the play and scored on Ritchie’s groundout to tie the score at 2.

The Rockets were looking for their first PIAA appearance since 2015.

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

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