Shaler softball falls in state finals on 9th-inning play at the plate

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Saturday, June 17, 2023 | 8:53 PM


In a game full of heart-stopping moments, Saturday’s PIAA Class 5A championship contest between Shaler and District 3 champion Northern York at Penn State’s Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park came down to a play at the plate.

With the teams tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth and runners on first and second, Polar Bears designated player Sabrina Paulin, a freshman, came up clutch for her team.

Paulin laced a two-out, two-strike single to the outfield. The relay throw home was on target, but Northern York sophomore Samantha Magee slid in safely before Shaler freshman catcher Alyssa Schaffold was able to apply the tag.

The Polar Bears players, coaches and fans then erupted and celebrated a 3-2 victory over the WPIAL third-place Titans.

“Coming up to the plate, I just wanted to get a hit, a line drive base hit somewhere,” said Paulin, who was 0 for 2 with a walk against Shaler freshman Bria Bosiljevac before her dramatic game winner.

“I at least wanted to advance the runners, but obviously I wanted to hit (Magee) home. The whole game, I was struggling with my at-bats, so I wanted to have at least one more opportunity to hit.

“Everybody thinks and dreams about being the one to get a hit to win a state championship. I was trying to not do too much, because that is how you mess up your mechanics. But I was able to make contact. This feels so great. We’ve worked so hard for this all season. To win it all, it’s amazing.”

Northern York (24-4), playing in its first state title game, improved to 5-1 in the PIAA playoffs. The Polar Bears’ only other state-tournament appearance came in 2006 when they advanced to the Class 3A quarterfinals.

Shaler lost just twice in 24 games this year and both losses went nine innings.

The Titans, playing in their sixth PIAA championship game and first since 2009, were seeking their first PIAA title since winning it all in 2004 and 2006.

“I told them that there is no losing in games like these. Either you win or you learn,” Shaler coach Tom Sorce said.

“These girls had a great season, and I am proud of them. Obviously, you don’t want to lose the last one. They fought and hung in there through the ups and downs of this game all the way to the last out. It was a pretty even game. (Northern York) just made one more play than us.”

Saturday’s title game originally was to be played Friday, but PIAA officials, upon checking the weather forecasts, felt it was in the best interest of all of the baseball and softball teams to postpone the matchups one day.

The weather at Penn State on Saturday was picture-perfect with comfortable and dry conditions and sunny skies as the Titans and Polar Bears clashed for gold.

“You want to play in the best conditions possible, especially for a game such as this,” Sorce said.

Shaler was the fourth WPIAL team to compete for a state title. Like the Titans, Union, Montour and Hempfield also fell one win short of a championship.

It was a busy championship experience for Shaler athletics overall as the baseball and boys volleyball teams also played for titles at Penn State.

The baseball team rallied from five runs down in the sixth inning Thursday to capture a 9-8 victory over Strath Haven in eight innings.

The boys volleyball team on Saturday suffered a 3-0 loss to District 11 champ Parkland.

Shaler softball continued to hit the long ball in the title game. Both Titans runs came on the strength of solo homers.

Shortstop Maya Simunovic led off the top of the third with shot that cleared the left-field fence.

Then, trailing 2-1 in the sixth, first baseman Ellie Facher smacked an offering from Magee that sailed beyond the fence in right.

Shaler hit nine home runs in four state-tournament games.

Northern York took advantage of a Shaler defensive miscue in the bottom of the fourth to score its first two runs.

Polar Bears third baseman Tayler Yoder led off the inning with a single and moved to third on a one-out single from center fielder Hailey Irwin.

Irwin moved up to second on catcher’s indifference.

After Bosiljevac got Magee to pop up to third for the second out, she induced a pop-up from shortstop Jessica Li that went straight up over home plate.

The ball came back to earth and landed two feet in front of the plate between Bosiljevac and Schaffold.

Both Yoder and Irwin were running on contact, and both raced home within four feet of each other.

“We didn’t make a play that we needed to make, and they capitalized on it,” Sorce said. “But we had other chances to win that game. It wasn’t just one play.”

Shaler was retired in order in the top of the ninth, but it had a strong scoring chance one inning earlier.

Ella Nash started the rally with a bunt single, and Schaffold followed with a single to put runners on first and second.

Designated player Bethany Rodman lifted a ball into foul territory in right. The ball was caught, but Nash was able to tag up and take third.

Schaffold then took second on catcher’s indifference.

With still one out, Bosiljevac flew out to center. Nash tagged up from third and raced home. The throw from Irwin in center was on the mark, and catcher Kiera O’Brine made the tag to end the inning and keep the Titans off the scoreboard.

Shaler also had a runner tagged out at the plate in the seventh and left runners in scoring position in the second, third and sixth innings

Bosiljevac threw 128 pitches, struck out 12 Northern York batters and walked just two.

The Titans finished with four hits. Magee, who threw 120 pitches, walked three and struck out seven.

Seven of the nine batters in the Northern York lineup had one hit.

“This is an incredible feeling,” Polar Bears coach Emily Quatrale said. “This game was a battle the whole time between two very good teams. The girls stuck it out, and I couldn’t be any prouder of them.”

Sorce said his players were upbeat after the game despite the loss.

“I have been preaching to them that this is a fun game,” he said. “It was an exciting game. I know they are disappointed, but they know they gave it their all. This is a good group of kids. We’ll be back.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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