Girls advance in PIAA playoffs

Avonworth star pitcher Sarah Hellfrich performed her magic once again as the Lady ‘Lopes defeated Fort LeBoeuf in a first round state playoff game. The WPIAL champion Lady ‘Lopes were scheduled to play in a PIAA quarterfinal game Thursday. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

By JIM RUMBLE

The Avonworth girls’ softball team reached a new milestone with their first ever victory in the PIAA playoffs when they defeated Fort LeBoeuf 8-1 in a first round game played at North Allegheny this past Monday.

The Lady ‘Lopes broke open a tightly contested game with an explosion of offense and tallied 14 hits, while pitcher Sarah Helffrich kept the Bisons’ bats in check, surrendering just three hits and two walks while striking out five.

"It was a gutsy performance by Sarah, who had to battle and adjust," said Avonworth coach Jenna Muncie. "Their pitcher did a good job of keeping us off balance, but in the end we came up with some big hits."

The 'Lopes seemed poised to get on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first when Natalie Marshall doubled to the gap in leftfield with one out, and Helffrich followed with a hit that put runners at first and third bases.

Maya Kozup was at bat when Avonworth attempted a double steal, but both runners were thrown out to end the inning.

The Lady ‘Lopes took the lead when they came to bat in the bottom of the second.

With two out, Meghan Fissore's hit got past the Fort LeBoeuf centerfielder and resulted in a triple. Cat Berie drew a walk before Abby Stanley delivered a base hit into left field giving, Avonworth a 1-0 lead.

Base hits by Domi Raught and Helffrich came in the bottom of the third inning, and Kozup's grounder to second base brought a run home to put the Lady Lopes up 2-0.

The Bisons took advantage of a fielding error followed by a walk issued and a base hit to get on the scoreboard, trailing 2-1 in the top of the fifth inning.

The score remained that way until Avonworth came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning.

A walk to Fissore and a base hit by Barie got things started, and a bunt by Stanley was mishandled to load up the bases. Emily Davis produced a hit that got through the right side to bring in a run and Raught's hit into right-center scored two more runs to put the Lady ‘Lopes up 5-1.

Marshall's base hit loaded the bases again before Kozup cleared them with a triple to left field that gave Avonworth an 8-1 lead.

Helffrich, who had three hits on the afternoon, set the Bisons’ batters down in order in the top of the seventh to nail down the victory.

"The nerves are a little higher in this state game," said Helffrich. "We don't want to be done and we were focused on coming in and playing like we have been."

[UPDATE: Avonworth faced Clearfield in a quarterfinal game played at St. Francis of Loretto yesterday, and ended the girls' state run with a 2-1 loss.]