Upper St. Clair softball rallies past rival Mt. Lebanon

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 | 10:03 PM

Defense wins championships. On Tuesday in a battle of Section 1-6A rivals, defense was the deciding factor as Upper St. Clair secured its hold on third place with a 10-6 victory over a desperate Mt. Lebanon team.

The Panthers rallied twice, erasing an early three-run deficit and down by a run late to win a third straight game and improve to 5-2 in the section, a half-game behind second-place Baldwin and a game ahead of fourth-place Canon-McMillan and Peters Township.

“Huge win for us,” Upper St. Clair coach Bill Aguglia said. “Our goal for the season was to make the playoffs. It’s been way too long for this school and community. We’re now halfway there with a lot of work to do.”

The Panthers had a lot of work to do after two innings as they trailed 3-0 when Ella Keebler cleared the bases with a three-run triple to give the Blue Devils the lead.

Upper St. Clair took the lead in the third inning, and the rally started with the third Mt. Lebanon error of the game. Haley Beardsley drove in two runs with a double, and Maddie Andrejcik scored two more with a single as USC batted around and scored five runs.

Keebler struck again in the Blue Devils’ fourth inning with a two-run double. An infield single by Paige Sneddon scored the go-ahead run as Mt. Lebanon was back on top 6-5.

USC took the lead for good in the sixth with two more unearned runs. After a one-out error, Paige Stevenson tied the game with a run-scoring double. After a wild pitch, Stevenson scored on a sacrifice fly by Zoe Malone.

Three straight hits by Grace Swigart, Beardsley and Maddie Swigart led to three insurance runs for the Panthers in the seventh to seal the deal.

Mt. Lebanon committed five errors, leading to seven unearned runs against pitcher Jenna Gorecki.

“I told our team we are young with two sophomores and four freshmen in the lineup,” Mt. Lebanon coach Casey Phillips said. “But the days of using that as an excuse need to be over.”

Despite the miscues around her, the sophomore never showed frustration at how the afternoon was playing out.

“One of the things we worked through in the off-season a lot is how I present myself,” she said. “I thought I wasn’t going to do very well at it, but I think I’ve learned to keep a short memory and keep playing and look for the next play.”

Meanwhile, the Panthers were flashing leather with two highlight reel plays in the seventh inning when right fielder Maddie Swigart made a shoestring catch on a line drive by Kate Barone, followed by a diving, tumbling catch by shortstop Stevenson to rob Gorecki of a hit to end the game.

“Our hitting is coming around,” Aguglia said. “The strength of our team is our defense. I’d put our defense up there with some of the best in the WPIAL.”

The loss dropped Mt. Lebanon to 3-5 in the section and two games out of a playoff spot with six section games remaining.

“We need to believe that we are good enough to beat anybody on any given day,” Phillips said. “You fight for the playoffs until the playoffs aren’t there, and even after that, you keep fighting.”

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