WPIAL softball playoff bracket breakdown

Thursday, May 12, 2022 | 5:59 PM

Favorite: Perennial power Hempfield has been ranked No. 1 for most of the season not based on reputation but on talent. While the Spartans are young (four seniors) and could be a year or two away from possible WPIAL glory, they have pitching, hitters and defense that can carry them a long way under first-year coach Tina Madison. Two of Section 2 champion Hempfield’s losses are by one run to Seneca Valley (2-1) and Armstrong (4-3). An 8-3 loss to Latrobe on Wednesday was a late-season speed bump. The seven-time WPIAL champions (they won 6A in 2017, ’18 and ’19) have an all-freshman battery in pitcher Riley Miller and catcher Allison Cervola.

Contenders: Led by Brooke Boehmer and Deidre Flaherty, Mt. Lebanon won Section 1 by a game over Bethel Park, the reigning champion. It won nine of 10 after a 2-1 loss to West Mifflin. … Pine-Richland was a semifinalist last year and lost to Bethel Park. The Rams have shown offensive punch, scoring double-digit runs in four of their last six games. … Bethel Park has championship experience, having won its first title a year ago. For much of the season, the Black Hawks have either blown teams out or played in one-run games. …

Don’t overlook: Seneca Valley has wins over Hempfield (2-1), Mt. Lebanon (19-9) North Allegheny (12-2), Norwin (2-1) and Franklin Regional (14-2).

Prediction: Hempfield over Mt. Lebanon

Class 5A

Favorite: Armstrong was the runner-up last season to North Hills, and the River Hawks are loaded again. They also finished second in the PIAA. With 11 double-figure-run games, the Section 1 champions have hit 1 through 9. They have eight games of 13 or more runs and an impressive 4-3 win over Hempfield. The question is, will the River Hawks have the pitching and defense to take the next step?

Contenders: Penn-Trafford, which ended the regular season as the Trib’s No. 1 team in 5A, has a pair of one-run losses, 3-2 to Thomas Jefferson and 6-5 to Hempfield (10 innings). Senior pitcher Mia Smith is one of the best arms in the bracket. The Warriors had seven shutouts through 14 games. … Trinity won Section 4 on a run rampage, scoring 10 or more runs 15 times. The Hillers’ losses are to a team from Ohio and West Allegheny. Watch out for Amber Morgan, Alyssa Rager and Ryleigh Hoy. … West Allegheny won five straight after an 8-7 loss to Chartiers Valley. The Indians beat Trinity and Mt. Lebanon.

Don’t overlook: North Hills, led by Kassidy Wittig, is a dark horse. The defending champions own a 3-2 win over big-hitting Franklin Regional, another team you don’t want to undervalue.

Prediction: Penn-Trafford over Armstrong

Class 4A

Favorite: Beaver features arguably the top pitcher in the playoffs in Payton List, a Virginia tech commit. The Bobcats are the defending champions and have the talent to repeat. They also won the PIAA title, finishing 21-0. Beaver won 35 straight games through Tuesday. List and a sound defense have posted eight shutouts.

Contenders: Yough is a perennial playoff team with some young talent. Senior pitcher Emma Augustine has held her own against good hitting teams. … Elizabeth Forward ended Yough’s nine-game winning streak with a 5-0 win Tuesday. The Warriors reached the semifinals last year. … Montour, the runner-up to Beaver in Section 3, scored 15 or more runs in five games. The Spartans have home run power. … Highlands made the WPIAL title game last season.

Don’t overlook: Burrell, which had one loss through Tuesday’s games, was the Section 1 champion.

Prediction: Beaver over Elizabeth Forward

Class 3A

Favorite: Avonworth is hoping to make it back to the WPIAL title game and capture gold again after winning it all in 2019. The Antelopes (14-4) fell to top seed and eventual champion Mt. Pleasant in last year’s WPIAL semifinals. After losses in two of three games in an early season trip to South Carolina, including one to Class 6A power North Penn, Avonworth produced 11 straight wins and finished 10-0 in Section 2. Included in that was a pair of strong victories against section runner-up Ellwood City (10-3). Sophomore Alivia Lantzy again has been a key presence in the pitching circle and at the plate for the Antelopes, and sophomore Leah Kuban also provides power in the lineup.

Contenders: Deer Lakes (11-4) rebounded from three losses during a trip south in late March. The Lancers rattled off 11 straight wins before a loss Wednesday to Class 4A playoff qualifier Knoch. Deer Lakes captured the Section 1 title at 8-0 and added victories against Class 5A contender Armstrong and Class 4A qualifier Highlands. Maddie Kee, a sophomore, has delivered in the pitching circle and also at the plate (23 RBIs). Senior Reese Hasley is hitting a team-best .457 … South Allegheny (12-3, 9-1) held off Southmoreland and Waynesburg to capture the Section 3 title. The Gladiators are seeking their first WPIAL title. South Allegheny edged playoff-bound Mt. Pleasant on Tuesday behind a pair of hits from Madison Pikula, Sydney Gordon and Lily Dranko … Ellwood City, last year’s WPIAL runner-up, finished second to Avonworth in Section 2 at 8-2. The Wolverines are seeking their fourth WPIAL title (2008, ’16, ’17). Kyla Servick (.574), Aliya Garroway (.485) and Julia Nardone (.484) lead the Ellwood City offense … Southmoreland hopes to make a run in the bracket after upsetting No. 2 North Catholic and qualifying for the semifinals last year. The Scotties swept Waynesburg and lost a pair of two-run games to section champ South Allegheny. Sophomore Amarah McCutcheon is one of several talented hitters in the Southmoreland lineup. She delivered a walk-off hit to beat Waynesburg, 4-3, on April 20 and helped the Scotties edge pitching standout Maddie Griffin and Ligonier Valley, 2-1, in the season opener.

Don’t overlook: Mt. Pleasant and Waynesburg were factors in a competitive Section 3. Waynesburg handed South Allegheny its only section loss, 14-9 on April 27, and Mt. Pleasant is 5-1 after a 3-7 start with a 6-2 victory over Southmoreland on May 2 and a close 5-4 setback to South Allegheny on Tuesday.

Prediction: Avonworth over South Allegheny

Class 2A

Favorite: Neshannock (18-0) rolled through the regular season scoring 10 or more runs 13 times and pitching nine shutouts. The Lancers topped Class 5A contender Armstrong (16-3) by a 14-4 score Tuesday, added key victories over section rival and three-time defending Class 2A Laurel (6-1, 8-5) and produced nonsection wins over Ligonier Valley, Union and Ellwood City. Neshannock, which is seeking its first WPIAL softball title since 2014, hopes to follow in the footsteps of the Lancers girls basketball team that won WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A titles in March. Senior Neleh Nogay, freshman Addy Frye and junior Hunter Newman are key members of a dangerous Neshannock lineup, and Frye is one to watch in the pitching circle. Frye collected four hits, including a home run, and nine RBIs against Armstrong, and cleanup hitter Newman had four hits and four RBIs. Frye added two home runs and five RBIs in an 11-1 win over West Allegheny on Wednesday.

Contenders: Ligonier Valley senior pitcher Maddie Griffin, a Youngstown State commit, has thrown several gems this season, including a 21-strikeout perfect game in a 3-0 win over Seton LaSalle on April 25. The Rams went undefeated in Section 2 (12-0) and were 13-3 heading into a nonsection game Thursday against Indiana. Ligonier Valley finished third in Class 2A last year and qualified for the state playoffs … Frazier, like Neshannock, enters the WPIAL playoffs undefeated. The Commodores breezed through Section 3 play at 12-0 with 10 of the 12 wins coming by shutout. Frazier was a WPIAL semifinalist last year and a PIAA qualifier … Laurel has a winning pedigree in the WPIAL playoffs with titles the past three seasons. The Spartans (13-3) are paced by the veteran presence of sophomore outfielder Addie Deal, sophomore pitcher Autumn Boyd and junior infielder Grace Kissick. Laurel finished second to Neshannock in Section 4 at 10-2 … Chartiers-Houston reigned in Section 1 with a 10-0 record. The Bucs, 15-3 overall, head into the playoffs hoping to shake off losses in two of their final three regular-season games. Chartiers-Houston is experienced in the postseason with seven starters in the lineup from last year’s quarterfinals team. The Bucs are led by senior outfielder Bella Hess, senior pitcher Nicolette Kloes and senior infielder Paige McAvoy. Chartiers-Houston is seeking its first WPIAL title since 2012.

Don’t overlook: Charleroi (10-5) has won seven in a row since a 2-0 loss to Frazier on April 28 and a 7-0 loss to Class 4A playoff qualifier Belle Vernon. It has scored 11.6 runs a game during the streak. The Cougars finished second to the Commodores in Section 3 at 10-2.

Prediction: Neshannock over Frazier

Class A

Favorite: Only covid has been able to stop West Greene’s recent run of WPIAL championships. The Pioneers won titles from 2016 to 2019 before the 2020 season was canceled. When spring sports came back in 2021, West Greene resumed its WPIAL championship run with a 17-2 victory over Union in last year’s title game at Cal (Pa.) before making it to the PIAA finals. The Pioneers (12-3) are undefeated since three tough losses to start the season at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach. They captured the Section 2 title with a 10-0 record. West Greene keeps rolling with junior London Whipkey (.480, 18 RBIs, seven doubles) and senior Katie Lampe (.442, 21 RBIs, 23 runs) leading the way. Eight players own at least 10 RBIs as the team is averaging nearly 12 runs a game.

Contenders: Union hopes to make it back to the title game and forge a different outcome. The Scotties, 17-3 overall, rolled to the Section 1 title at 10-0 while piling up runs and pitching seven shutouts. Their only losses came to Class 3A power Ellwood City, dominant Class 2A contender Neshannock and Class 2A qualifier Serra Catholic. Mia Preuhs, a freshman, and Mallory Gorgacz, a sophomore, lead the way offensively. Preuhs and fellow freshman Piper Jendrysik have shared pitching duties … Greensburg Central Catholic’s only two losses in Section 2 play came at the hands of West Greene, but the Centurions (11-4, 8-2) battled to the limit in a 7-5 loss to the Pioneers last Friday. Their only other losses came against Class 3A powers Avonworth and South Allegheny. Junior Emma Henry leads the team with a .650 batting average and a team-best 21 RBIs. … South Side finished Section 1 action 8-2 with the losses coming at the hands of Union. The Rams scored a quality 2-0 win over Class 2A contender Chartiers-Houston on Monday. It was the Buccaneers’ second loss in 16 games this season. Grace Woodling collected two hits and drove in both South Side runs, and Laney Lewis picked up the pitching win … Springdale (10-1) finished at the top in Section 3 and is in the WPIAL playoffs for the third season in a row. The Dynamos made the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2019 and 2021. Seniors Emily Wilhelm, Bri Thompson and Alexis Hrivnak are veterans at the heart of the Springdale lineup.

Don’t overlook: Leechburg is in the WPIAL postseason for a record 35th straight season. The Blue Devils, with junior Anna Cibik in the pitching circle and senior catcher Bella Vozar both at and behind the plate, hope to make some noise again after finishing third at WPIALs and qualifying for states last year.

Prediction: West Greene over Union

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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