Uncharacteristic mistakes cost top-seeded Penn-Trafford softball trip to final

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | 9:22 PM

How quickly things can change in the WPIAL softball playoffs.

“You don’t feel comfortable with any lead until the game is over,” Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little said.

Top-seeded Penn-Trafford built an early four-run advantage, but several defensive lapses led to a drastic swing in momentum and allowed No. 4 Connellsville to erupt for a 10-4 victory in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals Wednesday at Seton Hill.

The Falcons (16-6) scored six times in the sixth inning to blow past the Warriors (18-2), who many considered to be a strong favorite to win their first title.

Connellsville had other ideas as it beat the Warriors at their own game — big bats and offense — to make a long-awaited return to the finals.

Stone-washed jeans were trendy the last time these teams were title contenders. Connellsville’s last trip to the finals came in 1998, while Penn-Trafford was seeking its first title game appearance since 1990. Connellsville lost to Hempfield that year.

The Falcons will meet No. 10 West Allegheny (11-7) in the championship next Wednesday or Thursday at Peterswood Park.

Penn-Trafford can make the PIAA playoffs, but it needs to defeat sixth-seeded Franklin Regional (13-8) for a third time this season. The teams will play Tuesday at a time and site to be determined in the third-place game.

Penn-Trafford will have met three straight section opponents in these playoffs.

The rubber match between Section 1 teams saw the Falcons pile up 13 hits and take advantage of an uncharacteristic four errors by the Warriors, who went 2-0 against Connellsville this season.

“That stuff about it being hard to beat a team three times,” Little said. “I’m a numbers guy, and 78 percent of those teams win the third game, too. We were the other 22 percent today. We made some mistakes and it snowballed. It just happened at the worst possible time.”

Leading 4-0 after a big fourth inning in which Connellsville lent a hand with three errors, the Warriors came unglued after the Falcons tied it on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.

Little swapped pitchers with nobody out and a runner on in the fifth. Junior Morgan Hilty was pulled, and freshman Mia Smith took the circle.

Two runs immediately came in on an error, and a third scored on a wild pitch. Kaybree Benton was hit by a pitch and suddenly it was 4-4.

“I knew I was going to make the change,” Little said. “That’s something we’ve done all year, and it has worked. I would do it again. Mia will bounce back.”

Connellsville got a leadoff double from Sadie Miller to start the sixth, and Madison Kinneer singled. Penn-Trafford got two outs but then the Falcons erupted. Abigail King ripped a two-run single, and a third run trotted in via an error to make it 7-4.

With Hilty back in the circle, Kylee Yothers lasered a shot off her leg to score a run before Kara Hoover laced a two-run triple to give the Falcons a 10-4 advantage.

“It was a brand new game then,” Connellsville coach John Burd said of the pitching change. “We kind of got it restarted. We hit that pitcher before. We preached to be disciplined. That have us more momentum.

“Penn-Trafford is a great hitting team. I didn’t think we would win big like that.”

Mia Burd allowed seven hits and three earned runs to earn the complete-game win for Connellsville.

“I wanted this so bad for Mia,” coach Burd said. “It’s been four years, and she deserves it.”

Penn-Trafford had runners a first and second in the sixth before going peacefully in the seventh.

King, Hoover and Benton drove in two runs each and Yothers went 3 for 3.

Penn-Trafford scored on a squeeze bunt RBI by Hilty and a Madison Forsythe single, followed by a two-base error that cleared the bases. Forsythe even scored.

Emma Armstrong’s run-producing single made it 4-0.

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

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