‘Smiling snipers’ from Southmoreland eager to take crack at unseating No. 1 Avonworth

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Wednesday, May 31, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The text messages began shortly after the semifinal results came in.

Southmoreland junior shortstop Amarah McCutcheon and Avonworth’s junior battery of pitcher Alivia Lantzy and catcher Riley Gray began the jabbing.

“We always mess with each other,” said McCutcheon, who plays on the same travel softball team — Steel City Athletics 05 — as the Antelopes’ tandem.

“One of the main texts was just, ‘See you Thursday at 12.’”

While cell phone banter is one thing, McCutcheon will trade swings with her friends starting at noon Thursday when No. 2 seed Southmoreland (17-2) takes on No. 1 Avonworth (20-1) for the WPIAL Class 3A title at PennWest University’s Lilley Field in California.

If Southmoreland has its way, it will land a haymaker and finally knock the Antelopes to the cold mat.

“It’s a revenge kind of thing,” McCutcheon said. “It can be anybody’s game any day — whoever wants it more, and I think we want it more.”

Avonworth, the defending champ which is seeking its third title in four years, has beaten the Scotties three straight times in the postseason. They won 3-0 in last year’s semifinals, 3-2 in the 2021 third-place game to keep the Scotties out of the state playoffs and 3-2 in the 2019 quarterfinals.

If Avonworth has its number, Southmoreland plans to take it back.

Southmoreland coach Todd Bunner said it has been inspiring to see other highly seeded teams get beaten in these playoffs.

He referenced third-seeded Trinity beating No. 2 Shaler in the 5A semifinals, and No. 4 Belle Vernon bumping off No. 1 Elizabeth Forward in 4A.

Elizabeth Forward had beaten the Leopards eight straight times. EF and Shaler were undefeated.

“It can be done,” Bunner said. “Don’t ever count us out. Our girls wanted a chance to play Avonworth. Now, we have to take advantage of that chance.”

The Scotties have been in pressure-packed situations before, so the final can’t present too much they haven’t already seen.

They struck out 20 times against Ligonier Valley pitcher Cheyenne Piper earlier in the season before McCutcheon laced a two-run home run over the fence in left in the ninth for a walk-off win.

The Scotties trailed underdog South Allegheny, 4-2, after three innings late in the season, before the offense picked up for a 9-4 win. A loss there may have cost them the No. 2 seed.

And who could forget the WPIAL quarterfinal slugfest against Yough?

Southmoreland trailed 14-8 heading to the bottom of the seventh before staging the rally of rallies for a 15-14 walk-off win.

“I knew from the start we had the potential to win it all if we stayed healthy,” Bunner said, presenting cases to show his team’s toughness. “Our girls have been through tough situations before. Off the field, they are humble. On the field, they are monsters.

“They are smiling snipers.”

Said junior pitcher Maddie Brown, who tossed a 7-0 shutout against Waynesburg in the semifinals: “We have been through all types of emotions.”

Brown was backed by a crisp defense. Senior second baseman Brynn Charnesky had nine putouts in the win.

Southmoreland has not been to the finals since 2018 when it clubbed No. 2 South Park, 12-1, at Seton Hill.

“I remember watching that team drive back into town after they won,” Brown said. “I remember thinking how I wanted to be one of those girls.”

Lantzy is not overpowering but, as McCutcheon knows, she can force ill-advised swings.

“We’re going to see her rise ball,” McCutcheon said. “She knows how to pitch to me, and I know how she pitches.”

Said Bunner: “We need to be disciplined and lay off the rise ball and the outside stuff. If we swing at her junk and non-strike pitches, we will be chasing. They have a really good pitcher and some really good hitters.”

Both teams have won nine in a row.

“We have to have confidence in ourselves and believe we can do it,” Brown said. “This is where you want to be: in the WPIAL championship.”

And it begins high noon Thursday.

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

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