Class 5A softball notes: Young players gain championship experience for Thomas Jefferson
Notebook items from the WPIAL Class 5A championship game at scenic Seton Hill University:
• West Allegheny has advanced to the three consecutive WPIAL title games, and has won back-to-back championships.
The top-seeded Indians edged No. 11 Thomas Jefferson, 4-2, in this year’s finals to improve to 20-1 and record their 15th consecutive victory.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty nice,” WA coach Mindi McFate said. “I’m just really, really proud of these kids. I’ve said it time and time again: They are a phenomenal group of kids. Every coach at some point of their career should get to coach a group of kids like them. They play hard, and they play with class. There could not be a better deserving group of kids.
“Winning the WPIAL is a remarkable accomplishment, and winning back-to-back championships is hard to do. As the head coach, I am incredibly blessed to have an amazing coaching staff, and have the opportunity to work with a great group of athletes that love to compete, they respect the game, support each other, and most importantly they demonstrate outstanding character on and off the field.”
WA, which sits atop the TribLive High School Sports Network weekly power rankings, drew a first-round bye, then defeated No. 8 Trinity, 4-3, and No. 5 Connellsville, 7-2, in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
• Thomas Jefferson, which captured a WPIAL softball title in 2014, fell to 13-6. The Jaguars won their final three regular-season contests, followed by three playoff victories.
TJ upset No. 6 Moon, 3-2; No. 3 Penn-Trafford, 7-4; and No. 2 Albert Gallatin, 2-0; before losing to West Allegheny.
“We just weren’t patient at the plate,” said TJ coach Heidi Karcher about her team’s performance in the championship game. “The hits that we had were clustered together in the lineup by the same people. We had too many 2-0 (count) at-bats, and we swung impatiently and not at good pitches.”
• West Allegheny was the more experienced of the two teams with six senior co-captains its starting lineup — pitcher Ashley Seamon, infielders Jillian Weber (1B), Amy Nolte (2B), Taylor Cummings (SS) and Mackenzie Partyke (3B), and outfielder Taylor Goldstrohm.
“These seniors and the seniors I had last year were good role models,” McFate said. “We conduct ourselves in a certain way.”
Two sophomores, catcher Britney Wilson and outfielder Savannah Lewis, and two freshmen, outfielder Angela Costa and designated player Megan Pollinger, rounded out the lineup.
Wilson (.600), Partyke (.516), Goldstrohm (.512), Lewis (.478) and Cummings (.434) were the Indians’ leading hitters this season.
• Seamon, a laser-focused right-handed hurler, was all smiles — and sweat — following the game on a hot, humid day in Greensburg.
Seamon surrendered two runs on nine hits and issued two walks, improving to 20-1 on the year. She went into the game with a 2.27 ERA, seven shutouts, and 51 strikeouts in 115 innings.
“Experience is priceless, in my opinion, especially in sports,” Seamon said. “Whether it’s keeping nerves away, knowing the field you’re playing on or just the situation itself. You heard our bench: They were all screaming and excited because they knew what it was like to go through that last year and be successful last year.
“That’s a huge part of why we have been able to be successful. Successful experiences in the past have helped us.”
• Thomas Jefferson fielded one of the youngest teams in the playoffs.
First baseman Liz Brock was the only senior in the starting lineup. She was credited with 10 putouts on defense.
Also in the lineup were two juniors — catcher Haleigh Karcher and third baseman Lauren Liberi; four sophomores — pitcher Bella Bucy, shortstop Abby Chalovich, and outfielders Mackenzie Zang and Alana Cleary; and three freshmen — second baseman Paige Truax, outfielder Claire Whalen and designated player Lily Rockwell.
Bucy, a left-handed hurler, allowed two earned runs on four hits against WA, striking out two and walking two. She took a 10-6 record into the PIAA playoffs.
“Going into the game I was extremely nervous,” Bucy said. “I mean playing, especially pitching, in a WPIAL championship game could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and my teammates. Some teams never make the WPIAL finals, so I really took it all in and cherished every moment, even if we were losing or winning. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Prior to the WPIAL finals, Bucy had posted a 1.72 ERA with five shutouts and 94 strikeouts in 1012⁄3 innings.
“TJ is a great team. Their pitcher did a good job,” McFate said. “I was very impressed with TJ. They are a talented squad and they played us well. (Bucy) got us to chase pitches and she kept us off balance. They should be very proud of their performance. They are a young group that everyone should expect to see a lot from in the coming years.”
• The Jaguars outhit the visitors, 9-4, and did not strike out once.
Karcher, Bucy and Rockwell collected two hits apiece; Truax, Cleary and Chalovich each had one. Rockwell drove in both TJ runs. The Jaguars stranded eight runners, including four in scoring position.
TJ committed two errors on defense.
“It’s a shame WA had four hits and we had nine, and the score was lopsided,” said Karcher, TJ’s field boss. “They definitely are a good team, but we have the talent to beat anybody; just not that day.”
Goldstrohm, Partyke, Wilson and Nolte punched out West Allegheny’s only hits against Bucy. Wilson, Seamon and Nolte had RBIs; the Indians left five runners on base.
“Amy’s Nolte’s single that scored the go-ahead run in the second inning was a big play,” McFate said. “Taking the lead at any point in the game is a big momentum shift, and it was exactly what we needed at that time.”
• Thomas Jefferson opened the game’s scoring in the bottom of the first inning; the Indians answered with two runs in the second and third frames.
After WA assumed a 4-1 lead in the third inning, the Indians were held hitless until Goldstrom laced a one-out triple in the seventh.
• Bucy, who faced an all-right-handed lineup against WA, retired 15 of the final 17 batters she faced in the game. Four TJ players hit left-handed — Whalen, Truax, Bucy and Brock.
“West A had a good game,” Bucy said. ”(Seamon) may not have struck out my teammates, but she made us swing and hit fly balls, and her defense was tight. West A is an experienced team, already playing in the WPIAL championship game last year, and we knew it was going to be a close game.
“I’m so proud of my team for making it to the WPIAL championship game because no one ever thought we’d make it that far.”
• WA played an error-free game on defense.
“They were phenomenal,” Seamon said. “The infield was solid; the outfield had great catches, and (Wilson) behind the plate was solid. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
“They always have my back; there’s always 100 percent effort. That selflessness, I believe, has taken us this far.”
Goldstrohm, with a circus catch in center field, Partyka, on a double play at third base, and Seamon, who caught a line drive, sparked the Indians defensively.
“Mackenzie Partyka’s double play, tagging third and throwing the girl out at first, was a game changer,” McFate said. “TJ was gaining momentum with runners on first and second and no outs. Without that play, that inning could have been completely different.”
WA recorded eight outs on fly balls — six by Goldstrohm in center field and two by Lewis in left field.
“It was a great game and we were able to do enough to get the win,” McFate said. “I am just so incredibly proud of our kids. I think we sometimes forget that these kids are just that; they are kids. They feel the pressure to win and to perform well. They want to win, not only for themselves, but for their teammates, their parents, the school and the community.
“I am so proud of the way my players handled that pressure and the way the conducted themselves.”
• Seamon has been a multiple letter winner in softball, basketball and volleyball in high school, and has been named all-state in softball and volleyball.
″(Seamon) is the truest of competitors of any kid,” McFate said. “Ashley will not lose at cards. She will not lose when we play wacky bat in the gym. She’s a true competitor, and while she might not necessarily overpower people, she does trust her defense behind her.”
A WPIAL scholarship winner this year, Seamon has led the Indians to three consecutive 20-win seasons. West A finished 20-3 and as a WPIAL runner-up in 2016, then went 23-2 in 2017 when the Indians claimed their first WPIAL softball title.
“I live to win. I always want to win, just for the sake of it,” she said. “The only thing I like more than winning is — actually I can’t think of anything. I would say I hate to lose more than I like to win.”
The Indians have compiled a 51-3 regular-season record over the past three years, and have won three section titles with a 32-2 mark.
“Ashley is a competitor in the truest sense of the word,” McFate said. “She wants to win, and she is always working to improve in all areas of her game. She has done an outstanding job for our team during her career.”
Seamon plans to continue her basketball and softball careers at Penn State Behrend while studying industrial engineering.
• West Allegheny went 4-0 against common opponents this season; TJ was 5-1. The Indians defeated Moon twice, and Trinity and Connellsville once. The Jaguars beat Trinity twice, and Moon once; they also split decisions with Connellsville.
• The Indians have advanced to the WPIAL playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons, and have won four straight section crowns.
On the season, West A hit .443 and averaged 10.1 runs per game. The Indians outscored their opponents 129-24 en route to a 12-0 section slate.
• The SHU softball complex was a sea of red for the 5A championship game, as West Allegheny was well-represented by fans adorned in highly visible red T-shirts.
• Brock and seniors outfielders Jenna Herazo and Kimmy Bachman served as TJ’s team captains.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.