Top-ranked Armstrong routs Latrobe

Monday, April 24, 2023 | 9:32 PM

Latrobe softball players stayed as positive as they could, for as long as they could, still believing they could stage a rally as a cold wind whipped across the field.

“We’re not done, yet,” the girls repeated in the dugout. “We got this.”

Coach Bob Kovalcin loved his team’s teeth-chattering resolve, but as each inning turned over, reality began to set in for the Wildcats: Armstrong is just too good.

With its expansive lineup, the top-ranked 5A team in the state jumped on Latrobe early and rolled to a 10-1 victory Monday to secure a Section 2-5A sweep at Graham-Sobota Field.

“They just hit the ball,” Kovalcin said. “Top to bottom. What do you do with that? You going to walk them all? They’re solid.”

Junior Emma Paul hit two home runs and drove in five runs to pace the defending WPIAL champion River Hawks (12-1, 7-0), whose hit total matched their winning streak (12).

Paul also homered earlier in the season when the River Hawks beat the Wildcats, 7-3. Her second blast Monday was a missile to straightaway center.

Latrobe (10-2, 5-2) had its bats silenced to the tune of four hits against senior pitcher Cameryn Sprankle and an airtight defense.

The Wildcats had won four straight, the last three by a combined score of 49-3.

But Armstrong showed why it is averaging 10.3 runs. The River Hawks had 26 runs in one game and 16 in another.

“The girls are starting to hit,” Armstrong coach Keith Shaffer said. “They are heating up. We had a slow start. Everybody is hitting now, and we’re starting to jell.”

Paul launched a pair of two-run blasts, giving her seven of her team’s 27 homers.

“The girls love to hit the long ball,” Shaffer said. “We can play small ball if we have to. We had a safety squeeze against Penn-Trafford. The girls can get the job done, no matter what we need.”

It was 7-0 after two innings and 9-0 after three.

Seniors Emma Smerick and Isabella Atherton ripped run-scoring singles in the third. Smerick added a triple.

Sprankle, who often gets overshadowed by her team’s hitting prowess, was efficient working with a cushion. She was efficient, too. In one inning, she set down the side on six pitches.

She allowed four hits, with two coming in the fifth when the Wildcats finally got on the board via a two-out RBI single by junior Kayla Williams. That run spoiled the shutout and wiped away the mercy rule.

Latrobe left the bases jammed, though, as Sprankle retired seven straight to end it.

“We never got that big hit,” Kovalcin said.

Junior Jessie Pugh added a solo homer for Armstrong, whose only loss is to Hempfield.

“We have a veteran group, so there was no concern that we wouldn’t hit,” Shaffer said. “This is a signature win for us. Latrobe is a good team, and we knew that coming in.”

Senior Gabi Burd doubled for Latrobe.

Williams and senior Josie Straigis pitched for Latrobe. Straigis took the reins in the second.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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