Firing away

Grove City's Lizzie Malczak fired 1-hitters in her last two playoff outings.

SLIPPERY ROCK — Knoch hasn’t seen anything like Lizzie Malczak.

The Grove City ace struck out 11 batters and allowed just one hit over seven innings to lead Grove City to a 4-0 win over the Knights in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs at Slippery Rock University Monday afternoon.

“She had some movement I guess we haven’t seen yet,” Knoch coach Gary Coe said. “She threw well and shut us down. It’s not that often that our sticks get quieted and they did that today ... Good for them.”

The Knights (18-3) entered Monday’s PIAA Class 4A playoff opener with a team batting average over .400 and had outscored their opponents 138-21 since coming back to Pennsylvania after a trip to Tennessee early in the year.

Yet, the first 20 hitters they sent to the plate against Malczak immediately sat back down and could only send 2 balls out of the infield during that span. The only blemish on Malczak’s ledger Monday was sophomore Bailey Rickenbode’s single with 2 outs in the seventh.

“I expect her to do this every time she comes out and she has,” Grove City coach Dave Gatewood said. “She was light’s out. She’s just incredible. I can’t say enough about her. She’s carried the team until we can put a couple runs on the board.

“We don’t have to score 10 runs anymore with the way she’s pitching. If we can put up 2 or 3 or 4 like we did today, that should be enough.”

With Malczak mowing through Knights to the tune of 11 strikeouts, one run would’ve been enough for Grove City (16-5). 

“We wouldn’t be where we are without her,” senior Morgan Shingledecker said. “She’s one of the hardest working players that I’ve ever met. Coming back from the arm injury that she had (as a freshman) is unbelievable. All of us can’t thank her enough for what she’s been doing this year.”

But it wasn’t all Malczak.

With Malczak and Knoch’s Amanda Fisher locked in what appeared was going to be a pitcher’s duel through two innings, it didn’t take long for the hungry Eagles offense to get Fisher in trouble in the third.

GC got runners on first and second with one away after Courtney Saylor singled and Amanda McNabb reached on an error. One out later, Shingledecker staked Grove City to a 3-0 lead with one swing of the bat, sending Fisher’s 1-1 offering over the leftfield fence.

“I knew there were 2 people on base and I had to step up,” Shingledecker said. “I needed to put the ball in play to move them over and I saw she was pitching me outside a lot, so I thought I had to drive it.

“When I saw that it went to left-center, I knew I did my part, but when it went over the fence, the home run was an extra bonus. This was one of the biggest accomplishments that I’ve had in this sport.”

One inning later, the Eagles capitalized on a pair of Knight miscues when Abby Geiger scored their fourth run on Brooke Shingledecker’s grounder to short.

“That fourth run was a result of their mistakes and some head’s-up baserunning by (Geiger),” Gatewood said. “It was a team effort and that’s what we were looking for.”

The magnitude of what she was doing didn’t set in until roughly the fifth inning, Malczak said.

“(The Eagles) let it go and didn’t acknowledge it,” she said of her near perfect game with a smile. “They knew I was trying for it, but they had my back the whole way. It was the fifth inning when I started to think about it, but I tried to let the thought freeze over. I didn’t want to get too confident yet.”

With the win, the Eagles draw WPIAL titlist Elizabeth Forward (18-3) — who downed District 9 #1 seed Punxsutawney 8-2 — in tomorrow’s quarterfinals at a site and time to be determined.

“Winning districts just blew everyone away, because that was something Grove City hadn’t done in 16 years,” Morgan Shingledecker said. “Now, we have to look at the bigger picture and that’s states. We need to shoot for the stars.

“We’re going to approach (the Elizabeth Forward game) like we have every other game. We’re going to practice hard, hit the ball where it’s pitched and field the ball to support Lizzie. We have to be a team, because it’s going to take a team effort to keep moving on.”

Despite the calender showing just 7 days had elapsed since the Eagles hoisted the District 10 championship trophy for the first time since 2003, it had been a long week for Grove City’s six seniors (Jordyn Anderson, Camryn Billig, Hannah Clokey, Kelly McClearn, Chloe Saylor and Morgan Shingledecker).

“It’s been a long week, especially on the six of us seniors,” Shingledecker said. “We had graduation last week. We were going from school to practice to putting on a dress. Looking presentable was definitely a challenge. With graduation in the past, this doesn’t feel real. I’m getting to play the sport that I love with my team!” 

NOTES: Courtney Saylor helped preserve the no-hitter with a diving catch in center field to end the fifth inning. ... Knoch (18-3) finished with 3 errors on the afternoon. ... Fisher was tagged for 4 runs on 5 hits and 3 strikeouts in a losing effort for the Knights. ... Morgan Shingledecker went 2-for-3 with 3 RBIs, while Courtney Saylor, Billig and Malczak had the only hits for Grove City. ... The Eagles were making just their third appearance in the state tournament, while the Knights were making their initial trip.

———

In other PIAA softball playoff action, Wilmington and Commodore Perry were both eliminated. Following are game reports:

CLASS 2A

• Laurel 5, Wilmington 3 – On its quest to accomplish its last team goal for the season, Laurel may have passed one of its biggest tests along the way.

A year after coming out sluggishly and falling in its first state-playoff game, the WPIAL champion Lady Spartans shook off a slow start and used a big third inning to dispatch District 10 runner-up Wilmington, 5-3, at North Allegheny High.

They did what they had to do to get the ‘W,’” Laurel coach Frank Duddy said. “A couple of home runs helped. Kayla in the circle, she always does a nice job for us. We did what we had to do. I’m looking at this as our over-the-hump game. We got this one out of the way. In the back of their minds, they were still thinking this is where we blew it last year. I felt like I started to see a little bit of that come in.”

The win moves Laurel into the state quarterfinals against District 9 champion Cranberry, 9-1 winners over Freedom, on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.

“We’re going to get back to work (today), back to work Wednesday and then have at it on Thursday,” Duddy said. “We’re still working on goal No. 3.”

After falling victim to the so-called “WPIAL hangover” last spring, Laurel was motivated to not let history repeat itself this year. The Lady Spartans were again playing an opening-round game at North Allegheny against a District 10 runner-up coming off a lopsided loss.

“We concentrated on that,” Duddy said. “I think we still had a little hangover. In the pregame, in the warmups I thought we were ready to go.”

However, right out of the gate, Wilmington’s leadoff hitter Remington Koi roped a fly ball to center field which was dropped for an error. With Koi on third, Amber Siegfried then reached on a bunt. Taylor Dlugozima, the third batter, hit a line drive to the outfield to score Koi and the Lady Greyhounds took a quick 1-0 lead.

Duddy said his team may have had a case of the jitters early on.

“It was almost like we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” Duddy said. “Like I said, a lot of credit to (Wilmington). They came to play ball and made plays. They did a nice job. It was a good ballgame.”

That hot start was one of the points of emphasis for Wilmington, which fell 15-0 earlier this season against Laurel.

“We talked about it all week,” Wilmington Coach John Frank said. “Come out and put one on and keep trying to grind from there. That was one of the plans – don’t sit back, let’s be aggressive and come at them.”

Wilmington’s potent top of the order responded as Kayla Ruperto drove in leadoff hitter Olivia Lombardo to quickly even the score in the bottom half of the inning. Wilmington scored when another dropped fly ball in the Laurel outfield – which would have been the third out – led to the Lady Greyhounds retaking the lead at 2-1 in the top of the third.

Trailing a run, the Lady Spartans again responded when Lombardo and Brooke Atkins both reached. Mackenzie Latess drove in Lombardo with a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 2-2. Ruperto, the cleanup batter, then took Koi (five strikeouts, two walks, six hits) deep for a 4-2 lead. Latess homered in the fifth to up Laurel’s lead to 5-2. It’s the second straight game Ruperto and Latess each hit roundtrippers.

“They’ve been doing that all year for us,” Duddy said. “They’re clutch. They see it and hit it and hit it hard.”

Wilmington tried to strike back in the sixth as Meadow Whiting sent a Ruperto pitch over the outfield wall to get closer at 5-3, but Ruperto struck out Siegfried to end the inning. It was the last baserunner for the Lady Greyhounds on the afternoon, as Ruperto sat down the Wilmington side in the seventh to seal the win.

“They didn’t come to roll over,” Duddy said. “They came to play ball. It was a completely different team than we saw when we played them back in April. I saw a lot more confidence. They believed. Good for coach Frank. He got them up for this game.”

For Wilmington, it’s two straight seasons in the PIAA playoffs despite its youthful roster.

“Hopefully people take note that two years now, Wilmington softball is back on the map,” Frank said. “I’m happy, not that we lost but happy that we played a great game today against a great team from home all the way down away from our fans. If we would have been close to home, this place would have been sold out.” – By Pete Sirianni, CNHI News Service.

CLASS 1A

• Clarion Area 6, Commodore Perry 0 – At Slippery Rock University, the season came to an end for Coach Dave Shrock’s District 10 champion Lady Panthers (12-7).

District 9 runners-up Clarion Area (17-4) scored 2 runs in the 1st inning, 1 in the 2nd, 2 runs in the 3rd and tacked on another run in the 5th inning.

Kaitlyn Constantino threw a complete-game 3-hitter to lead the way for the Lady Bobcats. She struck out 12 batters and only issued 1 walk.

Mattison Arnett went the distance on the mound for Commodore Perry. She struck out 9 batters, walked 1 and only allowed 4 hits.

Brenna Campbell homered and singled for Clarion Area, Jordan Best ripped an RBI double, Lindsey Kemmer doubled, singled and drove in a pair of runs and Noel Anthony was credited with an RBI.

Commodore Perry beat Cambridge Springs, 10-9, in 8 innings last week to win the D-10 title. The Panthers also defeated Cambridge Springs to win the crown in 2017.

The Lady Panthers will have to say goodbye to seniors Kendra Harper and Taylor Stringert.

Clarion Area advances to Thursday’s PIAA quarterfinals to play West Greene, the District 7 champions.

West Greene beat District 5-runners up Rockwood, 8-1, on Monday.

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