SLIPPERY ROCK – You can’t win a state title if you don’t win your first playoff game.
Ligonier Valley took a step toward a possible PIAA softball championship by outlasting District 10 champion Sharpsville 3-2 Monday afternoon in the opening round of the 2A softball tournament at Slippery Rock University.
“You can’t win them all until you win the first one,” Rams coach Mark Zimmerman said. “I think everyone feels the same way. You’re confident going in and you’re confident in your team, but the other team wants it just as bad as you do.”
With the win, the Rams (20-2) will advance to Thursday’s PIAA quarterfinals and will play Chestnut Ridge (18-6) at a site and time to be determined. The District 5 champions tied the game in the seventh and scored twice in the 10th to outlast District 7 runner-up Shenango 3-2 Monday evening.
“Whoever it is, it doesn’t matter,” Zimmerman said. “We’ll be there ready to play.”
After two scoreless innings, Ligonier Valley struck first on Kailey Johnston’s two-strike, two-out single to score Eden Krouse and Maddie Griffin in the top of the third.
In their next at bat, the Rams loaded the bases with one away against Sharpsville pitcher Breanna Hanley but were only able to push one run across on a dropped forceout at the plate by Blue Devils catcher Avery McFeaters.
“It certainly helps, because teams don’t score a lot off of (pitcher) Maddie (Griffin),” Zimmerman quipped when asked if he was comfortable with a 3-0 lead. “When you’re down to the final eight, 10, 12 teams in the state, a lot of those girls play travel ball and have hit a lot of balls. Don’t get me wrong, we like Maddie and we liked where we were at ... we just don’t feel comfortable with a one- or two-run lead.”
Sharpsville made it 3-1 on a Raegan Knicley RBI single in the bottom of the fourth and pulled within 3-2 on Paige Yarian’s groundout to second base, but Griffin retired the side in the seventh to perserve the win.
“She’s played a lot of softball, and it’s not like she’s never been scored on,” Zimmerman said.
“She hangs in there and keeps getting the next out. That’s what you’ve got to do. I don’t care if you give up one run, let’s just not give up two. That’s what’s going to beat you.”
Griffin led the Rams’ seven-hit attack with a pair of singles, while Bella Schultz, Johnston, Bella Vargulish, Ruby Wallace and Kendall Domurot each singled.
“We could’ve scored more but we left some out there,” Zimmerman said. “We were getting them (on base and in scoring position), but we’ve just got to get the hits to finish it out.”
Griffin also earned the win by allowing just two hits and striking out nine over seven innings.
Six of her nine strikeouts were on called third strikes.
“She gets a lot of nice movement on the ball,” Zimmerman said.
“The girls don’t think it’s a strike from the front part of the plate, and the catcher catches it off the plate.
“Where it goes across the plate is real close to the plate.”