Valley softball sets tone early, brings home win over Highlands

Tuesday, March 28, 2023 | 9:41 PM

Valley jumped on Highlands for three runs in the first inning of a nonsection softball game Tuesday.

The Vikings scored just one more run in the matchup, but the early outburst proved to be the difference in a 4-2 victory over the Golden Rams.

“This is a nice win for us,” said senior pitcher Morgan Dunkel, who surrendered just three hits and no earned runs while striking out five and walking two.

“We got out to the early lead, and everyone worked hard after that and contributed to the win.”

Valley improved to 2-2 overall and bounced back from Monday’s 2-0 loss to Ligonier Valley when the Vikings offense was limited to just one hit.

“We had a few miscues here and there, but nobody put their head down,” said veteran Valley coach Carrol Perroz, who saw her team overcome five errors in the victory. “If something happened adversely, everyone picked each other up and came back with a big play. That was so important with how close the game was. They also did a nice job of refocusing on today’s game. They put (Monday’s game) behind them and came in right away with three big runs. They jumped right in there ready to play.”

Valley hopes to add to Tuesday’s win in games against Brashear and Springdale on Thursday and Friday.

“We got four games in already and could have six in by the end of this week,” Perroz said. “Six games before the start of April, that never happens. That is heaven as we are working to get some more people playing time and see who is stepping up.”

Highlands fell to 0-2 and wasn’t able to rebound from Monday’s weather-shortened 7-6 loss at Fox Chapel. The game was stopped in the fifth inning because of rain after no delay. The Golden Rams rallied with three runs in the top of the inning.

“We had momentum and the girls were ready to keep playing,” Highlands coach Kasey Wolford said of Monday’s game with the Foxes. “It was an unfortunate situation, but we saw some good things come out of the first game.”

Valley collected seven hits in Tuesday’s win and four of them came in the first.

Dunkel helped her cause right away by leading off the game with a single off of Highlands starter Maddie Gorney. Courtesy runner Jessica Staraniec came around to score on an RBI double from senior catcher Jordan Kirkwood.

Sophomore cleanup hitter and first baseman Gabby Campana-Chambers followed with a run-scoring double to make it 2-0.

Junior Ryleigh Kasten then singled, sending Campana-Chambers to third. Valley executed a successful double steal as Campana-Chambers crossed home for a 3-0 Vikings lead.

Valley had designs on extending its lead in the top of the second. The Vikings loaded the bases with one out and had Kirkwood and Campana-Chambers coming to bat.

But Gorney got Kirkwood to ground into a fielder’s choice – third to home – and then she snagged a liner from Capana-Chambers to end the threat.

Gorney retired the side in the third and fourth innings to keep Highlands in range. Valley added an insurance run in the fifth as Taliani reached on an infield single to lead off the frame and scored on Campana-Chambers’ second two-base hit of the contest.

Gorney finished with 10 strikeouts and only two walks surrendered.

“Maddie really settled in after the first inning or so and came back with a lot of strikeouts,” Wolford said. “She didn’t get down on herself. She kept pushing. We kept talking with her between innings. She got into a groove.”

Highlands got a run back in the bottom of the second. Leading off the inning, sophomore Bailey Megats belted one to deep center field. Valley sophomore center fielder Tori Johnson tracked the ball, but it bounced off her glove for a three-base error.

Sophomore Carrah Scardina then reached on a Valley fielding error, and Megats scored.

Highlands again drew to within two in the bottom of the fifth as senior Rachel Kline doubled to left and pinch runner Mallory Zendarski later came around to score on another Vikings infield error.

The Golden Rams got the leadoff hitter on base in both the sixth and seventh innings. Senior third baseman Abbie Deiseroth led off the sixth with a double, but a flyout, a strikeout and a groundout followed.

Senior Nahia Megats walked to open the bottom of the seventh, but she was erased as part of a 6-4-3 double play.

“We knew there was a lot of game left after that first inning, and we wanted them to stay positive,” Wolford said. “We had a lot of opportunities to score more runs.”

Both Golden Rams runs were unearned. Dunkel retired nine in a row from the second through fourth innings.

“We’re going to lean on Morgan a lot this year,” Perroz said. “She is how we go there in the middle of the circle, and the team knows that. She’s been a force for us for three years. We’re looking for her to continue to shine.”

Highlands is in the middle of a busy week which features four games in as many days.

The Golden Rams host Deer Lakes on Wednesday and Penn Hills on Thursday.

“Four games (in four days) is tough for anyone,” Wolford said. “But we told them to stay strong together, and we (coaches) have their backs with whatever they need.

“We’re seeing a lot of good things in the early part of the season. The girls are coming together and are starting to mesh in to the positions we’ve put them in. We would’ve liked to have gotten wins in these first two games, but we’re excited to see where we go from here. We’re pointed in the right direction.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at

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