With ‘all gas and no brakes,’ Belle Vernon hands 1st loss to Elizabeth Forward in 4A semifinals

Wednesday, May 24, 2023 | 8:33 PM

As sweet as career win No. 300 was for Belle Vernon softball coach Tom Rodriguez, No. 301 was a little sweeter.

The No. 4 seeded Leopards scored all of their runs except one via home runs Wednesday as they stunned No. 1 Elizabeth Forward — spoiling the Warriors’ bid for a perfect season — with a 10-1 win in a WPIAL Class 4A semifinal at West Mifflin.

Lexi Daniels hit a two-run shot in the third inning, and Ava Zubovic crushed a three-run homer in the top of the seventh, but it was Maren Metikosh’s grand slam in the top of the fifth inning that was the big blast.

“I think after Maren hit that one, you could kind of see the wind come out of them,” Rodriguez said. “It’s funny how everything just came together. Pitching, defense and timely hitting. We knew we had a powerful lineup, and they showed it against the best competition and a good pitcher today.”

Talia Ross was fantastic in the circle for the Leopards (17-4) after getting hit around a little bit by the Warriors in an earlier meeting. The junior southpaw threw a complete game and allowed only one earned run, a Shelby Telegdy solo homer in the fifth. She allowed nine hits but was bailed out by hitting her spots and fantastic defense behind her. She struck out four.

Ross forced the Warriors to hit into 12 pop-up or fly-ball outs.

“I wasn’t nervous at all about facing them today,” Ross said. “I threw a lot of rise balls and high curveballs on the outside of the plate, and they were chasing them. I only threw one fastball the entire game.”

Telegdy took the loss, allowing all 10 runs, six of them earned. She struck out four and was hit like she hasn’t been hit this season.

“Playing a team three times, it’s something I don’t like,” Elizabeth Forward coach Harry Rutherford said. “I didn’t like it when the draw came out and they were on our side of the bracket. They hit Shelby hard, and she got into some tough counts and made three big mistakes. She left the ball up over the plate for them, and they didn’t miss it.”

The Leopards opened the scoring with Daniels’ blast to left-center. Ross started the inning with a single to left. She moved to second on a great sacrifice bunt by Katie Sokol with two strikes before the Daniels’ shot.

“That was a big play for us, and she did a great job of getting that bunt down,” Rodriguez said.

With one out in the fifth, Ross walked and again, Sokol bunted and reached on a throwing error by Telegdy. Elizabeth Forward’s Carlee Soukup came up firing and gunned down Maddie Grisnik trying to reach third.

After a Daniels walk, Gracie Sokol lifted a soft liner into left to load the bases for Metikosh. She delivered, driving a 2-1 pitch over the center-field fence to make it 6-0.

“We watched a lot of film, especially of our last two games with them,” Metikosh said. “We noticed that (Telegdy) pitched us the same way every time. She’s never pitched me inside at all, so I was just looking for that outside pitch that I could drive.”

The grand slam was the first hit of the season for Metikosh off of Telegdy.

The Warriors pitcher led off the bottom of the fifth with an opposite-field homer to make it 6-1, but after Bella Gimiliano singled and Lauren Vay reached on a fielder’s choice, Ross got Alivia Grimm and Soukup to fly out to Belle Vernon right fielder Sydney Callaway to end any threat.

“It all came together. Talia was hitting her spots, and we got out of the jams, and the defense behind her was perfect,” Rodriguez said.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Warriors’ Addy Nigut led off the inning with a walk, but Julia Johnson hit into a 6-3 double play on a sharp grounder fielded by Ava Zubovic. She easily stepped on the bag and fired to first.

Hannah Evans followed with a single, but Julia Resnik flew out to Callaway to end the frame.

“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Rutherford said. “Sometimes you get the bounces, and that double play was big there in that situation because we had the top coming up just after that.”

Daniels led off the seventh with a single and moved to second on a Metikosh ground out. Mia Zubovic plated Daniels with a line drive to left center to make it 7-1. Lauren VanDivner drew a walk after a nine-pitch at-bat before Ava Zubovic blasted her homer to wrap up the scoring.

In next week’s WPIAL finals, the Leopards will face No. 2 seed Montour (15-3), which beat No. 3 Chartiers Valley, 10-0, in the other semifinal Wednesday.

“This just feels amazing. To do this in my senior year and have this chance to play for a WPIAL title, it means everything to me,” Daniels said.

Said Ross: “I knew we’d come out and show them what we got today. It was all about coming out with all gas and no brakes. This one was definitely sweet.”

Gimiliano led the Warriors at the plate, going 3 for 3. Telegdy and Evans each finished with two hits.

Gracie Sokol, Mia Zubovic and Daniels each finished with multiple hits for the Leopards.

Belle Vernon’s win ended an eight-game losing streak to their rivals to the north. The last Belle Vernon win was in the 2018 WPIAL championship game.

“We have to put this one behind us and pick ourselves up and get ready to make a run in the states,” Rutherford said.

The Warriors will face Chartiers Valley next week in the Class 4A consolation game at a site, day and time to be determined.

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