Thomas Jefferson stuns Plum with walk-off grand slam in Class 5A 1st round

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Monday, May 15, 2023 | 9:48 PM


The Thomas Jefferson softball team possesses a gold chain with a dollar sign in sparkles designated for those who hit home runs.

Jaguars junior center fielder Zoe Krizan had that chain around her neck Monday afternoon at Gateway because she was money in the bottom of the seventh for the No. 8 Jaguars in their WPIAL Class 5A first-round game against No. 9 Plum.

With TJ down a pair of runs and the bases loaded, the No. 3 hitter in the lineup smacked an offering from Mustangs freshman Riley Stephans that sailed over the right-center field wall.

The grand slam was the walk-off the Jaguars were looking for in their come-from-behind 8-6 victory.

“It felt amazing coming off my bat,” Krizan said. “I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it. We got the gold chain halfway through the season. Me and my teammate, Ali Chalovich, kept going back and forth on who had the chain.

With the win, TJ improved to 14-5 and advanced to the quarterfinals and a date Wednesday against top seed Armstrong.

“Anything can happen in the playoffs,” Kizan said. “I always tell the girls to never doubt ourselves. Just because they are the one seed doesn’t mean we can’t beat them as the eight seed. We have to go in with confidence and trust in ourselves.”

The River Hawks, the defending WPIAL champions and PIAA runners-up, defeated No. 16 Upper St. Clair 10-0 in five innings at Norwin on Monday to advance.

“This is huge for us,” Jaguars coach Heidi Karcher said.

“We were a little disappointed with our seed, but it is what it is. Also, playing on turf is tough when you are not used to playing on turf. But the girls did an awesome job playing right to the end. It was a great win for us.”

For Plum, it was a sudden conclusion to a season of success with only three seniors in the lineup. The Mustangs (10-7) sought their first WPIAL playoff victory since beating TJ in the first round of the 2017 Class 5A tournament.

“I just told them I was proud of the way they played all year,” Plum coach Phil DiLonardo said. “We had a good season for as young as we are. It bodes well for the future with what we did this year.”

Stephans seemed to get stronger for Plum as the game went on in her WPIAL-playoff debut.

She retired eight in a row through a strikeout of Jaguars third baseman Emma Desimone to open the bottom of the seventh.

That is when TJ came alive. It started with a single by catcher and No. 8 hitter Taylor Karpac. Pinch hitter Hannah Cairns then drew a walk.

Left fielder and leadoff hitter Adalina Bracco delivered a bloop single to center to score courtesy runner Kahlen Barringer to draw the Jaguars to within 6-4.

Morgan Alisesky had doubled in the first and third innings, and Plum didn’t want to deal with her again, so she was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Krizan, who struck out twice and bunted into a fielder’s choice in the third, then made the Mustangs pay.

“I was a little down on myself after striking out twice, but I kept telling myself that anything can happen,” Krizan said.

“I went up to the plate telling myself that this was the only at-bat that mattered in this moment. My anxiety was through the roof with what the situation was, but I also tried to go up there with confidence that I could do it.”

The home run was Krizan’s sixth of the season.

“We’re a pretty strong team through the entire lineup, so I knew the bottom of the order could get on base and bring up the top of our lineup, which actually was struggling throughout most of the game,” Karcher said.

“I told the girls with each at-bat to use pitch selection and try not to be the hero with one swing. But in the end, Zoe had that big hit for us. What a way to end the game.”

Karpac also was a hitting star for the Jaguars. She finished 3 for 3, and her two-run single in the fourth gave TJ a 3-1 lead before Plum began its rally.

Plum got on the board to tie the score 1-1 in the top of the third as sophomore catcher Dani Pici led off with a solo home run.

The Mustangs had several other chances to get runs on the board over the first four innings but stranded seven runners, including the bases loaded in the top of the first and a runner in scoring position in each of the other three innings.

“Any time you leave runners on base, it is frustrating,” DiLonardo said. “Especially in the playoffs, you can’t leave runners on. We had opportunities, especially early on, and we didn’t cash in, unfortunately.”

But Plum broke through in the top of the fifth with four runs. The Mustangs bats forced the TJ defense to make plays, and the Jaguars scuffled with three errors.

All four runs in the inning were unearned against Jaguars starter Kendall Pielin.

Pici walked to lead off the fifth and scored on an error, Mackenzie Lang and Makenzie Marotta reached and scored on errors, and Liana Yusko drew a walk and came around to score on an RBI single by Bella Tavella.

“We did not play our best game defensively,” Karcher said. “That fifth inning was a disaster. But we taught the girls to never give up, and they kept their heads up and kept battling.”

Plum scored what was, at the time, a big insurance run in the top of the seventh as Lorish singled, advanced to second on a walk issued to Marotta, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Madelyn Wagner, and scored on a sacrifice fly to center from Yusko.

Pielen struggled at times with control as she walked seven. But she also recorded six strikeouts and got out of several jams en route to the win.

Stephans finished with eight hits allowed and three walks. She struck out six.

“(Thomas Jefferson) is a really good team also,” DiLonardo said. “You have to give credit to them. (Riley is) a freshman, and I am sure she’s going to grow from this experience. She’s very talented, and this was a talented group. Sometimes, it just doesn’t go your way.”

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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