With school out, Leechburg turns complete focus on PIAA softball playoffs

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Saturday, June 1, 2019 | 8:39 PM


Kristen Knapp, Aubry Skeel and Kiera Jones left Leechburg on Thursday night as graduates.

A few days earlier, they were part of another graduation of sorts with the Blue Devils softball team, who, after falling in the consolation game two years in a row, broke through for a 3-2 victory over Jefferson-Morgan to advance to the state playoffs.

Now that school’s out, they’re focused on softball, and the hope is to make a nice run in the PIAA tournament.

The Blue Devils (18-2) play District 9 champion DuBois Central Catholic (20-3) in the PIAA Class A first round 5 p.m. Monday at Heindl Memorial Field in DuBois.

“You get to relax all day and not worry about homework, then come to the park and practice for a couple hours or play a game,” Skeel said. “It’s kind of feels weird, because we’ve never played this long. It’s the first time we’re experiencing practice after school’s been out.”

Leechburg is in the state playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

Sophomore pitcher Emma Ritchie played a big part in the consolation game win. Her ground out drove in McKenna Pierce for the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth, and then Ritchie stranded the tying run at second base with one out in the top of the seventh by getting a strikeout and a ground out.

Knapp, the catcher, was behind the plate for Ritchie’s performance and was happy to see the team come through in a tense game.

“All of us were anxious in the beginning, but then we pulled through and showed them what Leechburg can do,” Knapp said. “I was really proud of Emma for really stepping up and pitching the best game she could.”

Leechburg put up astronomical run totals in the regular season. It scored more than 10 runs in every Section 3-A game and eclipsed 20 runs twice.

In the playoffs, runs have been tougher to come by. The Blue Devils scored eight runs in their quarterfinal win over Jeannette and three runs in each of their last two games.

The Blue Devils are hitting .380 as a team and have five starters with a batting average of .400 or better.

The recent lack or runs has been frustrating, but they feel they found a remedy in the consolation game and are confident they can return to lighting up the scoreboard.

“The last game showed us that we were meant to be here,” Skeel said. “We’ve worked all season to be here, and we deserve it.”

Leechburg coach Debbi Young likes the commitment and focus her team has showed at practice leading up to the state playoffs. Jones had a family vacation to Ocean City, Md., planned, but decided to stay behind so she can participate in the state playoffs, a goal she’s been working toward since her freshman season.

“There’s going to be more vacations, but there’s never going to be another chance to play in the state playoffs,” Jones said.

DuBois Central Catholic won its third District 9 title in the last four seasons with a 7-1 win over Clarion on Thursday. The Cardinals scored all seven runs in the first inning, three coming on a homer by Mia Meholick. They were the No. 5 seed in the tournament, but scored 15 runs in a first round win over Coudersport and put 22 runs on the board in the semifinals while dispatching top seed Otto-Eldred.

Like Leechburg, the Cardinals boast a strong offense. They have a team batting average of .513 and have hit 25 homers. Senior Ashley Wruble has a .622 average and 22 extra-base hits, including nine homers.

Freshman Morgan Tyler has 90 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings. She was the winning pitcher in the District 9 championship game, striking out 14 in a complete game.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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