With ace Cheyenne Piper putting up zeroes, Ligonier Valley jumps back into contention

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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Section 3-3A softball coaches are wary of the movement on Cheyenne Piper’s pitches.

The spin. The rise and drop. The changes in speed.

Piper’s team also has thrown a curveball at opponents with a resounding message that has reverberated through the standings and painted the outside corner: “Remember us?”

Piper, Ligonier Valley’s spectacled senior ace, is at it again, and so are the Rams, who crept into first place with a five-game winning streak that included a head-turning sweep of section favorite Southmoreland.

“Her location is extremely good,” Southmoreland coach Todd Bunner said.

The bats of Southmoreland have stirred fear in many teams. But not the Rams (8-1, 5-1), who knocked the No. 1 out of Southmoreland, silencing the Scotties after they had reached the top spot in the TribLive 3A rankings.

“With Southmoreland being such a talked-about and talented team, it definitely got into some of the girls’ heads,” Piper said. “But whenever we hit the field during the first game, we realized that our goals and carrying them out are just the same as every other game. Winning those games gave us such a confidence boost, which will definitely help us in upcoming competition.”

Yes, for Section 3 teams, it’s time to pay the Piper. The crafty right-hander was 7-1 with a 0.55 ERA, a 0.63 WHIP, and 85 strikeouts — 38 looking, which speaks to the confusion hitters face with her movement.

Piper, who had a 1.36 ERA in 113 1/3 innings last season and struck out 194, said she has slowed her routine in between pitches this season to “keep pace and conserve energy.”

“It also slows down a team’s momentum if they’re rallying with a couple hits already,” the Westminster commit said. “My mentality keeps me centered when we face teams that are known to hit. And realizing their skill set at bat helps coordinate future pitches.

“As a pitcher, I understand how to sequence my pitches. I locate them and vary between speed and spin changes to keep the batter off balance.”

Piper knows she is going to allow a few hits, but her trust in her defense grows with each putout.

The Rams offense has given their ace offensive support, even if it’s only a pittance at time. They beat Mt. Pleasant, 3-2, and Southmoreland, 2-1 and 1-0.

“It only takes one or two with Cheyenne,” Yough coach Dutch Harvey said. “Once they get a lead with her, it’s over. To me, she is the greatest competitor in the section.”

The Rams also, however, clubbed Yough, 10-0. Yough edged Ligonier Valley, 1-0, earlier in the season, the Rams’ lone defeat.

“The thing that has impressed me most about this team is the hard work that our entire team and coaching staff put in,” Rams junior catcher Sydnee Foust said. “It’s very clear that every single one of us players want to be out on the field to win.

“I believe the keys to staying in every game are the consistent defense that’s powered by Cheyenne’s great pitching. It’s no secret that she keeps us in every game. Because our defense is so dependable, I knew that our hitting would come along and manufacture enough runs to win us games.”

Piper is so confident in her defense, she isn’t concerned about where the ball is hit, as long as it stays in the park.

“I can’t think of a single position where I have to question whether or not they can make the out for that play,” she said. “Our mentality is definitely our biggest strength along with both our offense and defense. I can’t think of a single weakness that isn’t something we can’t work together to overcome in a moment’s notice. Being a team where each player wants to give everything to win a game has changed us for the better.”

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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