SLIPPERY ROCK — The West Greene High School girls softball team had 49 minutes in the third inning Monday afternoon to think about how to jump-start their attack and generate some runs against Dubois Central Catholic.
Apparently, the rain delay — the second of the day — was time well spent.
After being held hitless over the first two innings of the PIAA Class A semifinal, West Greene weathered the delay and came back focused, confident and hitting. The Pioneers put up a four-run inning and a pair of three-run frames to defeat District 9 champion Dubois Central Catholic 12-1 and clinch a spot in the state championship game for the first time since 2018.
West Greene (21-2) will play District 11 champion Tri-Valley (20-2) on Friday (11 a.m.) at Penn State’s Beard Field for the PIAA title. Tri-Valley was a 7-3 winner over Halifax in the semifinals.
Following a 97-minute rain delay that pushed back the start of the game, the Pioneers fell behind 1-0 in the first inning. It was still that way in the third, when the rain returned, this time of the torrential downpour variety.
So, West Greene must have spent the delay reworking its plan of attack against DCC pitcher Morgan Tyler, who had allowed only one single to that point, right?
“No. Our kids were busy playing music, asking if they could get food from he concession stand, and asking if they could go back to the bus to get cupcakes, SunnyD and apple juice,” explained West Greene coach Bill Simms. “Our kids were loose. Me? I was a nervous wreck.”
“I think the delay helped us,” said West Greene sophomore catcher London Whipkey, who had two hits and scored four runs. “It settled us down. It was a good thing. We were too tight that first time through the batting order.”
West Greene did make one adjustment during the delay. Simms said his hitters were taking too many called strikes and wanted them to be more aggressive early in counts.
“We were taking too many first or second called strikes. We were not getting three swings in. It was like we were playing against our section rival Monessen when they had (Dana) Vatakis. You had to get three swings against her. The only thing we asked them today was to be more aggressive.”
So the Pioneers came out swinging at strikes. After Katie Lampe, the first batter after the delay, walked, Whipkey singled to load the bases. Jersey Wise then scored to tie the game when winning pitcher Kiley Meek grounded out. Right fielder Olivia Kiger, who was 3-for-4 with four RBI, followed with a two-run double into the left-field corner and West Greene had the lead for good at 3-1.
“We started out slow. We needed a pick-me-up,” Kiger said. “We got the lead and just clicked from there.”
The Pioneers made it 6-1 with three more runs in the fifth. A two-base error on a ball hit to right field by Whipkey started the rally and West Greene needed only one hit in the inning, a two-run single by Taylor Karvan. Anna Durbin put down a perfectly executed squeeze bunt that scored a run.
In the sixth, the lead grew to 8-1. Lampe was hit by a pitch. Whipkey then hit a grounder to shortstop but Lampe beat the DCC infielder to second base and everybody was safe. Meek doubled to right-centerfield to score Lampe, and Kiger had a run-scoring single to center field.
The Pioneers kept it going in the seventh, stringing together five consecutive one-out singles — by Wise, Lampe, Whipkey, Meek and Kiger — and scored four more runs.
It was the first time during the PIAA tournament that Meek was able to pitch with a big lead after the Pioneers pulled out one-run victories over Shade and Cambridge Springs, the latter in 10 innings. She didn’t need all the extra run support as she tossed a six-hitter and not allowing more than one hit in any inning.
It will be the fourth appearance in the state final for West Greene. DCC had beaten the Pioneers in the PIAA semifinals in 2019 and there was no spring sports season last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I thought we had the potential to get this far,” Kiger said, “but our first goal was to win the section, then the WPIAL. Once we got the PIAA tournament, we want to win the next one. We had two close games but we wanted more and kept pushing it. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be going back, and we still have a game to win.”
West Greene has won 13 consecutive games.
“We’ve been taking it one step at a time with a lot of smaller goals,” Whipkey said. “I think we’re playing really solid now. If we keep playing like this ...”