Avonworth girls head to WPIAL championship

Avonworth’s Sara Hellfrich heads for home plate in Monday’s WPIAL quarterfinal win. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

BY JIM  RUMBLE

The Avonworth girls’ softball team inched past the defending WPIAL champ and then knocked out another opponent in the semi-finals to earn a chance to face Keystone Oaks in the WPIAL championship game next Wednesday, 2:15 p.m. at Peterswood Park in the South Hills.

The Lady ‘Lopes overcame an early deficit and went on to earn a 5-3 victory against the South Park Eagles in a semifinal game played at North Allegheny this past Wednesday.

“We battle, that’s what we do,” said Avonworth coach Jenna Muncie. “They’re [South Park] a good team, we just had to one-up on them.”

Sarah Helffrich went the distance on the mound, fighting through a jagged start while surrendering seven hits and three runs.

“I’m worn out a little bit but we battled through,” said Helffrich. “I can always count on my team for whatever we need. We win or lose together and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

South Park took the early lead when they came to bat in the top of the third inning.

A walk issued and consecutive base hits loaded the bases for the Eagles and led to two runs when a hard grounder ricocheted off Meghan Fissore’s glove at third base and then Domi Raught’s glove at shortstop to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead.

With runners on first and third, a grounder to shortstop brought another run across home plate and the inning ended with South Park up 3-0.

Avonworth took over the lead when they came to bat in the bottom of the third inning.

Abby Stanley led off with a hit and had advanced to second base with two outs when Natalie Marshall’s fly ball was dropped, allowing Stanley to score. Walks issued to Helffrich and Maya Kozup loaded the bases when Leah Logan delivered a hit to right field to bring another run home.

With the bases still loaded, Fissore’s smash hit to third base brought in the tying run and Cat Barie’s infield hit followed to give the Lady ‘Lopes the lead 4-3.

In the bottom of the sixth, Marshall reached base on an error, Helffrich bounced a hit through second base and Kozup’s smash hit was mishandled at second base, allowing an insurance run in to help secure Avonworth’s 5-3 victory.

Avonworth made it to the semis by outlasting Southmoreland, the defending WPIAL champion, in a quarterfinal contest that went into extra innings this past Monday by a score of 3-2.
Fissore knocked in the winning run for the Lady ‘Lopes in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off hit to nail down the win.

“We knew coming in that we were going to battle with Southmoreland,” said Muncie. “They’re a great team – we just kept grinding, grinding and grinding.”
Hellfrich went the distance on the mound, scattering just seven hits while staying in control through the bulk of the contest.

“I’m just doing the best that I can, I know that I have an amazing team behind me and I can’t ask for a better team,” said Helffrich.

That was evident when the Scotties came to bat in a scoreless game in the top of the fourth inning.

Southmoreland led off with a base hit but Leah Logan threw out the runner on an attempted steal to record the first out. Two consecutive hits followed to put runners at first and third bases but Raught was able to field a grounder cleanly at shortstop to set up a double play to get out of the inning.

Avonworth got on the scoreboard when they came to bat in the bottom of the fourth.
Helffrich drew a walk to start and Kozup’s base hit to left put two runners on base. Logan laid down a sacrifice bunt in front of home plate that put the runners into scoring position and Fissore’s ground out at shortstop brought Helffrich home to give the ‘Lopes a 1-0 lead.
Avonworth added another run in the bottom of the fifth after Raught drew a walk and Marshall laced a triple through the alley in left field to put the score at 2-0.

Infield hits by Logan and Barie came before Stanley was hit by a pitch to load the bases in the bottom of the sixth with one out, but the Lady ‘Lopes were not able to capitalize before the inning ended.

The Scotties began the top of the seventh with a double and a hit batsman, allowing two runners on when a double barely inside the third base line followed to bring in a run and put two runners in scoring position.

With one out, an intentional walk was issued to the next Southmoreland batter to load the bases but a grounder to second base was not fielded cleanly to turn a double play and the Scotties picked up another run to tie the score at 2-2 and send the game into extra innings.

Avonworth missed out on an opportunity to close out the game in the bottom of the eighth when Fissore was hit by a pitch and moved into scoring position on Barie’s sac bunt. Emily Davis drew a walk before Raught delivered a hit to right field but Fissore was thrown out at home plate to end the inning.

Marshall was hit by a pitch and Helffrich followed with a double to set things up for the Lady ‘Lopes in the bottom of the ninth.

Kozup was intentionally walked to load the bases and with one out, Fissore whacked a hit to left field to bring in the winning run and a 3-2 victory.