Thomas Jefferson topples Belle Vernon in Section 2-4A

Tuesday, April 23, 2019 | 10:12 PM

For the first four innings of Tuesday’s Section 2-4A contest, the defending WPIAL Class 4A champions and defending Class 5A runner-up played even softball.

It wasn’t until the fifth inning when Thomas Jefferson pulled away a bit, while continuing to pitch and defend well, en route to a 5-1 victory over Belle Vernon at Washington County Park.

The Jaguars, behind a complete game from Bella Bucy, won their 10th game of the season and sixth game in section, while Belle Vernon, despite a complete game from Sophia Godzak, dropped to 5-10 and 3-6 in section play.

“It was competitive and seemed like a repeat of the last time we played them,” TJ coach Heidi Karcher said. “Our bats came alive. It was tight for awhile like it was the first time, and then we had an inning where we kind of exploded. I thought we performed pretty well.”

Both teams managed to plate a run in their half of the first inning. Thomas Jefferson started the scoring with an RBI double by first baseman Lilly Rockwell. Belle Vernon’s only run came on an RBI single by Godzak.

The pair of squads went back and forth for the next three innings, before Thomas Jefferson added two in the fifth to take the lead for good.

Graci Fairman, the Jaguars’ right fielder, led the frame off with a single. Center fielder Claire Whalen then singled to move Fairman to third after she had stolen second. A groundout by Bucy scored the eventual winning run before Whalen scored on shortstop Abigail Chalovich’s double with one out.

In the sixth, Thomas Jefferson made it 4-1 on a Bucy sacrifice fly. Rockwell then doubled home a run in the seventh to make it 5-1, which was the final.

For Karcher, the pitching of Bucy was a huge key.

“She got a lot of first-pitch strikes and didn’t throw too much out of the zone,” Karcher said. “She didn’t walk too many and she located inside and outside well. She’s been hurt, so it was good to see her pitch really well.”

“I was pleased with our effort today,” Belle Vernon coach Tom Rodriguez said. “This team is tough. The girl who pitched has been hurt. It was a challenge to hit her because she moved the ball and changed her speeds.”

For Rodriguez, one of the missing pieces this season has been timely hitting in spurts. The last few years, the Leopards have been able to get away with scoring only a few runs, and won, largely because the efforts of pitcher Bailey Parshall, now a freshman at Penn State.

“Usually they beat everybody by a lot, and we were able to keep it close today,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody is blowing us out. Last year we could score a couple and be fine. This year is different. Our girls have to step it up going forward.”

The Leopards are now in a bit of a situation, as they fall to 3-6 in section play, with three remaining games. They’ll need some wins and help, and will have an opportunity at a win Thursday when they travel to McKeesport.

Thomas Jefferson is looking to continue its success, as the Jaguars will play at home versus Carrick Thursday in section play.

“Pitching is key and we have to keep our bats going,” Karcher said. “We’ve had some fluctuation defensively, but I think we have our best defense out there now. But pitching has to be key, and we have to keep the bats going for sure.”

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