McMURRAY — Jefferson-Morgan’s hope for a WPIAL Class A softball championship ended in only 3½ innings last Wednesday when the Lady Rockets lost to Greene County rival and No. 1 seed West Greene in the semifinals.
Jefferson-Morgan still had a shot at the PIAA tournament Tuesday afternoon, but it would need to beat second-seeded Leechburg to get there.
Although Jefferson-Morgan hung with the Lady Blue Devils, the Lady Rockets' season came to an end with a 3-2 loss in the WPIAL Class third-place consolation game at Pleasant Valley Elementary School.
“(When) we play against these other teams that aren’t West Greene, we can hang with them,” Jefferson-Morgan head coach Rich Rush said. “The biggest thing with my girls is just getting them to have the confidence in themselves that they can play with these teams, and I think this year went a long way for that.”
It took the Lady Rockets (11-8) just three batters to score first inning. Pitcher Caitlyn Dugan helped herself when she drove in shortstop and lead-off hitter Jasmine Demaske for the game’s first run.
Jefferson-Morgan added on in the second inning. After Maddie Van Divner singled, stole second base and advanced to third on a throwing error, Savanah Clark drove her in with a groundout to make it 2-0.
After leaving runners on base in the first two innings, Leechburg’s offense broke through in the bottom of the third.
The Lady Blue Devils (17-2) cut the deficit in half when Kristen Knapp scored on a popout to shortstop by McKenna Pierce. Leecburg tied it one batter later on an RBI groundout by pitcher Emma Ritchie.
Jefferson-Morgan threatened in the fourth inning, loading the bases on a single and two walks. However, with two outs, Ritchie retired Demaske, and Leechburg escaped with the game still tied.
Neither team scored again until the bottom of the sixth.
Dugan had retired nine in a row when Pierce lead off the sixth inning for Leechburg with a double down the left-field line. She would come around to score on a groundout by Ritchie, giving the Lady Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 3-2, and the only advantage they would need.
With their season on the line in the seventh, the Lady Rockets got a runner to second base, but a ground out ended the threat.
Ritchie went the distance for Leechburg, allowing two earned runs on five hits, walking three and striking out six. The Lady Blue Devils will face the District 9 champion in the PIAA playoffs next week.
Dugan gave up only five hits. She walked a batter and struck out five.
Despite ending the season with consecutive losses, things are looking up for Jefferson-Morgan.
The Lady Rockets return seven starters and four are freshman. With West Greene, who will play in the WPIAL championship this afternoon against Union, losing several key players, Jefferson-Morgan has an opportunity to close the gap in Section 2-A.
“I think we have a little bit more confidence this year, definitely,” Dugan said.
Building on that confidence will be key for the Lady Rockets to make their way to states in 2020.
“We beat a four-seed (Sewickley Academy) and we played right with the two seed,” Rush said. “They have to carry that off into next year, and know that they have the ability … we’re going to be a tough team next year.”