‘Underdog’ Seneca Valley rolls past Hempfield into Class 6A WPIAL finals

Wednesday, May 25, 2022 | 9:08 PM

As Hempfield was making lineup changes late in the game, Seneca Valley players passed the time with a quick round of Rock-Paper-Scissors. The game went around the horn.

Other players danced to music in between innings.

It’s all fun and games these days for the Raiders, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lively and loose, fourth-seeded Seneca Valley dumped No. 1 Hempfield, 7-2, in a WPIAL Class 6A softball semifinal on Wednesday at Fox Chapel.

“They have fun to focus,” Seneca Valley coach Marlesse Hames said. “It helps them stay loose so when a big moment comes around, they’re not thinking about it and tight. They like to play hacky sack, too.”

Seneca Valley (12-6), which has won seven in a row while averaging 12.9 runs, advances to the championship game for the first time since 2011 and will take on No. 7 North Allegheny (12-9) or No. 3 Pine-Richland (12-4) next Wednesday at Cal (Pa.).

Hempfield (13-4), minus starting freshman pitcher Riley Miller, who broke her foot in a quarterfinal win over Norwin, fell behind early and never recovered.

The Spartans are finished since only the top two teams from the WPIAL make the PIAA tournament in 6A.

Seneca Valley took two of three games from perennial power Hempfield, a Section 2 opponent.

“We had something to prove,” Hames said. “We were looked at as underdogs all year. The talent on this team is unbelievable.”

Senior Maddie Gross belted a three-run home run to left in the first inning, senior Ainsley McLane followed with a double, and freshman Bella Gross singled in a run for a 4-0 Raiders lead.

The early cushion gave freshman pitcher Lexie Hames confidence. She didn’t allow a hit after the third and struck out 15, while walking one and hitting a batter.

She struck out four straight to close out the win.

“She has been working on spinning the ball, but (late in the game), she wanted to throw the fastball,” coach Hames said. “She kicked in.”

The Raiders, who didn’t make the playoffs last year, outhit Hempfield and backup pitcher Hannah Uhrinek, 15-5.

“Losing your starting pitcher before the semis is a hard blow,” Hempfield coach Tina Madison said. “But we only scored two runs. If we only score two runs, and Riley is on the mound, maybe we still lose. In the past two games against them, we’ve only scored three runs. We need more than that.”

Madison noticed Hames getting sharper as the game wore on. Eight of Hempfield’s starters struck out at least once.

“We’re going to see a lot of her in the future,” Madison said. “You get a lead like that, it takes the pressure off.”

Maddie Gross was 2 for 4 with five RBIs. She added a two-run single in the fourth to make it 7-2.

Gross was 3 for 3 with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs in a 17-1 win over Bethel Park in the quarterfinals.

“(Gross) has been a beast in our lineup,” coach Hames said. “She’s been clutch all year.”

Hempfield’s limited offense came from senior Olivia Kline, who had an RBI single in the first, and Uhrinek, a sophomore who singled with two on in the third.

Sophomore Maggie Howard had two hits for the Spartans, who made the semifinals for the sixth time in seven seasons.

The Spartans appeared to cut the lead to 4-2 in the first, but a run was waved off after an interference call between second and third.

Freshman Allie Cervola’s groundout scored a run, but it did not count.

“That popped our bubble a little bit,” Madison said. “Still, we had too many defensive errors.”

Coach Hames said her team did not necessarily smell blood in the water with Miller on crutches.

“Hempfield breeds pitchers,” coach Hames said. “We know they have other pitchers and we had to be ready for whoever they threw at us.”

Uhrinek struck out seven, mostly at the bottom of the Raiders’ order.

Junior Mia Ryan was 3 for 4, while senior Hayley Walter, sophomore Kara Pasquale, McLane and Bella Gross each had two hits for Seneca Valley.

Hempfield only loses four seniors and two starters heading into next season.

“We had a really good run and I am proud of the girls,” Madison said. “I am excited about the future of Hempfield softball.”

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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