West Perry’s walk-off win dashes Elizabeth Forward’s state title hopes

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Thursday, June 13, 2019 | 10:54 PM


UNIVERSITY PARK — In his 41 years as a softball coach, Elizabeth Forward’s Harry Rutherford had never seen a play quite like this.

West Perry star Tiara Johnson was stealing second and EF catcher Brianna Sersevic’s throw was one of her best, reaching shortstop Anna Resnik’s glove before Johnson reached the base. But her aggressive seventh-inning slide knocked the ball loose and sent it flying wildly into the outfield.

After avoiding the out, Johnson hustled to third.

Three batters later, Cheyenne Shughart’s bases-loaded single scored Johnson and lifted West Perry to a walk-off 3-2 victory Thursday night in the PIAA Class 4A championship at Penn State, dashing Elizabeth Forward’s hopes for winning its first state title.

“I’ve never seen a play like that,” Rutherford said. “The throw was there. The tag was there, right on the shoe like she’s supposed to. There was no mistake, that’s just the way the ball bounced.”

Johnson, a Canisius recruit who reached base three times and scored twice, thought she was out.

“I remember the tag being on me,” Johnson said, “but when I slid in I think I kicked the ball out of her glove. It wasn’t intentional but it benefited me in the end.”

The fluky bounce proved costly for EF.

With the speedy Johnson on third and only one out, Rutherford elected to walk the bases loaded and face No. 4 batter Shughart, who hit a game-winning bouncer between shortstop and third base.

The loss snapped a 19-game winning streak for WPIAL champion Elizabeth Forward (20-4), which hadn’t lost since March 28. The state title was the first for West Perry (24-5), the third-place team from District 3.

“I kind of understand why they loaded the bases, but I was grinning ear to ear because I know Chey can hit,” West Perry coach John Zeigler said.

A half inning earlier, a dramatic finish seemed unlikely. Elizabeth Forward had entered the seventh trailing 2-0, but the Warriors loaded the bases and tied the score with a pair of sacrifice flies by Taylor Ludwick and Sersevic.

Mackenzie Kearns and Resnik each scored.

The Warriors had struggled all night with runners on base, stranding eight in the first six innings. Twice they left a runner on third. They had a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity in the fifth and didn’t score when West Perry pitcher Cori Ritter forced a soft liner to second and a flyball to center.

Ritter allowed seven hits, three walks and struck out four.

In the seventh, Kearns walked, Resnik singled and Jordan Pinneri reached on a bunt single. This time Ludwick hit a run-scoring sacrifice fly to right and Sersevic followed with her game-tying sacrifice to center.

“I’m thrilled the way they fought back and the way we played the game,” Rutherford said.

The day was unusual long before the seventh-inning bad bounce. The game was originally scheduled for 1:30 p.m. but long rain and lighting delays at PSU’s Beard Field pushed the start time to 8:05 p.m.

With lightning nearby, the players spent a couple of hours sitting on the bus in the parking lot. Eventually, the team visited the Penn State Berkey Creamery for pregame ice cream.

“It was rough,” EF pitcher Kailey Larcinese said, “because it was continuously waiting and waiting and waiting. But what can you do?”

Larcinese allowed three runs on six hits and four walks. The sophomore struck out nine and kept her team within reach.

West Perry proved dangerous with two outs. The Mustangs had 12 batters reach base including seven with two outs.

They scored their first run with two outs in the third. Johnson slashed a two-out triple into the right-field corner and Lindsey McCurdy followed with an RBI single to center.

In the sixth, Katelyn Zeigler and Gretchen Frederick hit consecutive two-out doubles to deep right-center, scoring Zeigler for a 2-0 lead.

“That’s the sign of a good team,” Rutherford said. “They’re able to come through and get key hits when they have to. We didn’t come through and do our job when we had that opportunity. They did.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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