Shaler softball uses big 8th inning to best Armstrong, punch ticket to state finals

Monday, June 12, 2023 | 9:00 PM

In last Thursday’s PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal victory over WPIAL champion Trinity, Shaler scored all five of its runs on three home runs.

The Titans again used the long ball Monday to produce six of their eight runs against Armstrong in a state semifinal contest at Gateway.

Shaler scored six times in the top of the eighth and held off a furious River Hawks comeback in the bottom of the inning to score an 8-5 victory and punch its ticket to Friday’s state championship game at Penn State.

“We just wanted to move on,” Shaler senior first baseman Bethany Rodman said. “This means so much to this team that we get to play for a state title. It feels really good to be able to work together as a team to make it happen.”

Shaler played at Gateway for the fifth time this postseason and improved to 4-1. It went 2-1 there in the WPIAL playoffs with the only setback a nine-inning heartbreaker to Trinity in the WPIAL semifinals.

Last Thursday’s quarterfinal contest also was at Gateway.

“(Gateway) feels like a home away from home because we’ve played here so often,” Shaler sophomore center fielder Ella Nash said.

The Titans will go after the program’s first state title since it won the Class 4A crown in 2006. Shaler also captured the Class 3A title in 2004. It will play at 4 p.m. Friday at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.

Shaler’s opponent won’t be determined until Tuesday evening. District 2 champion Abington Heights will play District 3 champion Northern York at 6 p.m. Rain washed out Monday’s scheduled matchup.

“Anything can happen now,” Shaler coach Tom Sorce said.

“We’re just excited to be here. At the beginning of the year, we didn’t think we could go this far. With two returning starters, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

It has been quite a spring for Shaler sports. The Titan baseball and boys volleyball teams both have PIAA semifinal contests Tuesday with the goal of joining the softball team in the state finals.

Armstrong hoped to reach the state championship game for the third year in a row and bring home its first title, but the River Hawks, the WPIAL runner-up, concluded its season at 21-3.

The Armstrong seniors wrapped up their three-year varsity careers 62-14 overall.

“It is too bad that our journey has to end, as anything short of getting back to Penn State with this group of girls is a disappointment,” Armstrong coach Keith Shaffer said.

With the scored tied 2-2 heading to the eighth, Shaler right fielder Emily Spears got things started with a single. She moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from left fielder Chrissy Sciullo and advanced to third on a ground out to second by shortstop Maya Simunovic.

Armstrong was on the cusp of getting out of the inning, but Bella Mubel, the third baseman and No. 9 hitter in the order, came through with a single to score Spears with the go-ahead run.

Leadoff hitter Ellie Facher hit a ball to third that was misplayed, and it kept the Shaler inning alive.

Nash then hit her second home run on the Gateway turf in as many games, and the three-run shot extended the advantage to 6-2.

“The at-bat before that I had struck out, and it was really frustrating,” Nash said.

“This time, I saw that first pitch come right down the middle, and I cranked it. It felt so good.”

Catcher Alyssa Schaffold followed with a double, and Rodman, who walked in her first four plate appearances, three intentionally, then blasted a shot over the right field fence to make it 8-2.

“She waited for the right pitch, and she took care of it,” Sorce said.

It also was Rodman’s second home run in as many games.

“For (Shaler), they started hitting the ball. I mean, they were hitting the ball all game,” Shaffer said.

“They were some hard hits, and our defense made some really good plays to keep us in the game. They kind of steamrolled us there with that one home run (Nash). That put us down. That really hurt us. I then made a poor decision pitching to Rodman in that last inning. That’s on me.”

Despite an 8-2 deficit, Armstrong didn’t fold. Senior Emma Smerick launched a solo home run off of Shaler freshman starter Bria Bosiljevac to lead off the bottom of the eighth.

Junior Emma Paul, who tied the game at two with a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth, followed with a fly ball to center. Nash came in to make a catch attempt. As the ball arrived to her glove, Sciullo, racing over from her spot in left, collided with Nash, and the ball hit the turf.

Nash was tended to on the field for a couple of minutes.

“I think she kind of kneed me, but I am not exactly sure,” Nash said. “I got the wind knocked out of me.”

Paul attempted to extend her double into a triple, but she was tagged out on the relay throw from the outfield.

It was a key first out for the Titans as Armstrong added runs on solo homers from senior Bella Atherton and junior Jessica Pugh.

Junior Shelby Cloak reached on a three-base outfield error to keep the River Hawk’s hopes alive. But Bosiljevac struck out senior Cassidy Adams looking to end the game.

“The girls came back,” Shaffer said. “They always fight. They never give up. They pounded the ball that last inning. If we would’ve seen a little of that more early, I think we would’ve had a better chance to win the game.”

“Shaler is a really good team, and that pitcher had double-digit strikeouts again.”

Bosiljevac issued three straight walks to start the game, but she then struck out the next five batters and settled down. She gave up just two hits – one being the Paul homer in the sixth – through seven innings before Armstrong collected its four in the eighth.

In addition to her six hits and five walks surrendered, Bosiljevac finished with 13 strikeouts.

“It wasn’t one of her best days at all,” Sorce said.

“I told her that the game isn’t decided in the first inning. She settled down and got us out of that jam. I didn’t like what happened in that last inning, but (Armstrong) is a really good team, and I didn’t know if eight runs was going to be enough.”

Armstrong senior starter Cam Sprankle had scattered five hits over seven innings before Shaler’s eighth-inning uprising. She struck out two and was tagged with six walks total, including the three intentional to Rodman.

Shaler opened a 2-0 lead after five innings as senior leadoff hitter Ellie Facher delivered a solo home run in the third, and Nash produced an RBI single in the fifth.

“I’ve known these girls my whole life, so I am really excited to go to Penn State with them,” Nash said.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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