Congrats to the girl’s softball team on another big win! Content courtesy of the Trib HSSN:
CRESSON — Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little faced the biggest decision of his coaching career.
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning and his team up a run, Donegal’s most feared batter, first baseman Steph Reider, stepped into the batter’s box representing the tying run Tuesday in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals at Mt. Aloysius.
Little went with his gut and went after Reider with freshman reliever Mia Smith. Smith struck out Reider to clinch a 5-4 victory and send Penn-Trafford to the PIAA championship for the first time. The Warriors (22-2) will face Lampeter-Strasburg at 4 p.m. Friday at Penn State’s Beard Field.
Lampeter-Strasburg defeated West Chester East, 5-2, in the other semifinal.
“We pitched her up, and she homered,” Little said. “We pitched her down, and she singled. We pitched inside, and she singled. We got her by pitching her away.”
Going after Reider, who was 3 for 3 with a two-run homer, wasn’t the only gut decision Little made during the game. When Donegal loaded the bases on three consecutive hits with no outs in the fifth inning, Little decided, after a talk with starting pitcher Morgan Hilty, to leave her in the game.
Hilty struck out the next batter, got the next to ground into a force out at home then retired Reider, who tried to score on a short passed ball.
“She was getting tired, but I had a gut feeling she’d get out of it,” Little said. “She’s one of our ‘Honey-Badgers,’ meaning she was going to find away, and she did. She knows what she’s doing, and she made a great decision covering home on the passed ball.
“That was a great hitting team. We knew what they liked to do, and we prepared. Our team did a great job adjusting to their pitcher.”
Donegal (24-3), the District 3 runner-up, had 11 hits but managed only four runs.
“We left some runs out there,” Donegal coach Wayne Emenheiser said, “and I feel we gave a few away. She did a great job executing that bunt. It was a tough play. They kind of remind me of us in 2017 when we won the title.”
Once Hilty did her job, Little called on Smith to do hers. She retired the final six, including three on strikeouts.
“Morgan is good at getting us out of anything,” Penn-Trafford catcher Carlee Lamacz said. “She’s confident in what she does. Once Mia came in, she finished it.”
Earlier, Penn-Trafford got two clutch two-run singles to erase Donegal leads.
After Reider hit a two-run homer in the top of the first inning, Penn-Trafford responded when senior shortstop Morgan Nedley executed a perfect bunt single toward the second base that scored Madison Forsythe and Emma Armstrong to tie the score 2-2.
“This is amazing to make the finals,” Forsythe said, “especially our senior year.”
In the second inning, Jess Lichota lined a double off the top of the center-field fence and scored on a wild pitch for a 3-2 lead.
“We knew when they jumped out to the lead we knew our bats would save us,” Nedley said. “I bunted the ball hard, and I knew if I got past the pitcher we’d have a shot scoring two runs.”
Donegal responded with a two-run double by Jordynn Park in the third inning for a 4-3 lead.
But in the fourth, Armstrong got a clutch two-run single to center.
“I had two strikes on me, and I knew I had to get the bat on the ball,” Armstrong said. “I was trying to do my job.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul by email at email@example.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.