Small ball, miscues propel Penn-Trafford into PIAA Class 5A semifinals

Thursday, June 9, 2022 | 7:37 PM

FAYETTEVILLE — Fundamentals, no matter what time of the season they are or are not executed, carry immense meaning for softball teams.

Simple ground balls. Pop-ups. Sacrifice bunts. They all can add up. And they are magnified in the state playoffs because they can make or break seasons.

Penn-Trafford used a number of bunts to set up runs, and Southern Lehigh struggled to make routine defensive plays in a PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal playoff game Thursday. The WPIAL runner-up Warriors stacked up unearned runs and took advantage of 11 errors by the District 11 champion Spartans to hang a 16-5 victory on the board at Norlo Park near Chambersburg.

Small ball led to a big score. While the score would suggest the mercy rule, the lopsided game lasted all seven innings as the Warriors were methodical, patient and opportunistic.

“I think we had 11 bunts,” Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little said. “The bunt got us going today. The girls laid it down. We don’t have the big hitting like we had in the past. Sometimes you have to find ways to score runs.”

The Warriors (20-3) earned a WPIAL title rematch with Armstrong (22-4) in Monday’s semifinal, which will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Mars.

“Our girls earned this rematch,” Little said.

Sophomore Mack Keenan had three hits, including a two-run homer, in the leadoff spot. Freshman Cam Ponko reached base five times and drove in five runs, and junior Kylee Piconi added three RBIs for the Warriors, who trailed 3-1.

Southern Lehigh (19-7) took a 3-1 lead on a three-run, opposite-field homer by sophomore Kaley Hoffman in the first.

But the Warriors responded, even after losing their starting pitcher briefly. Senior Mia Smith jammed her left middle finger while batting and left the game after giving up Hoffman’s home run.

Senior McKenzie Rapp filled in and, despite allowing the Spartans to tie it 5-5, did not let them regain the lead.

“Our girls responded well,” Smith said. “McKenzie is a strong pitcher. I know I couldn’t hit her the other day at practice. I knew we would be OK.”

Smith returned for the bottom of the third and retired eight straight hitters. The Warriors scored 11 unanswered runs as errors piled up for the Spartans. Smith stuck out eight, picked up her 20th win and topped 190 Ks for the season.

A four-run second that included three errors gave them a 5-3 lead. Ponko had a two-run single.

“We weren’t surprised we could score (16 runs),” Ponko said. “We know we have the ability to do that.”

Southern Lehigh senior Hannah Bausher, the backup pitcher who relieved senior starter Mikaela Benner, ripped an RBI single to tie it 5-5.

But Keenan’s two-run homer gave the Warriors an 8-5 lead in the third.

“We needed someone to step up and get us going,” Little said. “Mack did that today. We only had three runs (against Twin Valley). We needed to get more offense.”

Ponko ripped another two-run single to make it 13-5 in the fifth.

Three more runs crossed in the seventh, all products of errors as things went off the rails for the Spartans.

“We exploited their weaknesses,” Smith said of Southern Lehigh.

Penn-Trafford used 13 hitters as Little once again emptied his bench.

Freshman Kylie Anthony, who started in place of junior Caitlyn Schlegel (illness) in center, added two RBIs.

Southern Lehigh also had two catcher’s interference calls go against it, adding to a long day in the field. Penn-Trafford denied longtime Southern Lehigh coach Brian Neefe his 840th career win.

Neefe completed his 51st year leading the Spartans.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at


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