Softball: Pioneers Outslug River Hawks, Win State Title
Dominance. That's the only word that can be used to describe the Pioneer softball program. They've won five out of the last 6 Section 3 titles, 2 consecutive L-L League titles, a District III title this season, and now four out of the last five PIAA state title games. The team won the 2018 championship, defeating West Allegheny by a score of 6-2. The Pioneers have won all 28 of their previous 28 games, steamrolling into the PIAA title matchup. On the other side of the diamond at Beard Field were the Armstrong River Hawks, who clinched a spot in the title game by defeating North Hills earlier this week.
Pioneers Pose With State Title Trophy (Chris Knight LNP)
Junior ace Keiva Middleton started in the circle for the Pioneers. She's been lights out all season, recording a 1.25 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 162 innings pitched. Cameron Sprankle started for the River Hawks. Sprankle entered the matchup with a 3.20 ERA. Both pitchers escaped danger in the first inning, leaving runners stranded in scoring position. Armstrong struck first in the top of second inning, with Cassidy Adams scoring on a wild pitch that bounced off the glove of catcher Karissa Hirt. Adams was moved into scoring position on a double from Riley Kilgore. Later in the frame, Emma Smerick hit a ground ball to shortstop Chloe Blantz, allowing Kilgore enough time to slide into home safely and give the River Hawks a 2-0 lead. The Hawks continued to pile on, scoring two on a infield single that bounced off of the second base bag. The Pioneers got some of the runs back in the bottom half of the inning, as Blantz came up clutch with a 2 out 2 RBI double.
Middleton helped her own cause in the bottom of the 3rd inning, driving the ball over the left-center field fence for a solo home run. Ally Raub tied the game up with a single back up the middle, scoring Emily Platt on an errant throw from center fielder Cassidy Adams. The Pioneers weren't finished yet. Freshman Julia Gerard drove in yet another run on a sacrifice fly, giving L-S a 5-4 lead.
The offensive theme continued in the 4th. Emma Smerick led off the inning with a single, then proceeded to steal second base to put herself into scoring position. The aggression paid off, as the next batter hit a fly ball to center fielder Julia Gerard. Gerard was forced to dive to make the catch, allowing enough time for Smerick to speed home. MacKenzie Egley was the next batter due up, and she drove another ball over the fence to give Armstrong a 6-5 lead going into the 5th.
One thing has been consistently great throughout almost the entirety of the year for the Pioneers. That thing is hitting, and it showed in the 5th inning. 9-hole hitter Sydney Weichler took a riseball into the opposite field gap for a double, scoring two and giving the Pioneers the lead. Weichler crossed the plate later in the inning on a single off the bat of Daisy Frank. Camryn Byler also joined the party, crushing the ball over the left field fence to plate Frank and give the Pioneers a 6-10 advantage.
Emma Paul recorded her 4th RBI of the game to reduce the River Hawk deficit to 3, but it simply wasn't enough. With 2 outs in the top of the 7th inning, Riley Kilgore hit a routine fly ball to left fielder Brooke Zuber to seal the deal and let the celebration begin.
The Pioneers win their second-ever state title and avenge their 2019 title game loss. The trophy was handed to seniors Daisy Frank, Chloe Blantz, and Camryn Byler, who have all been cornerstones of this Pioneer team over the last 4 years. Sophomore Ally Raub was named player of the game, going 3-4 with a double and an RBI. It's been another outstanding season for the Pioneer softball program, and with key players such as Middleton and Raub returning next year, this group probably isn't done yet.
By Logan Moyer, LS News reporter