When asked which of his Hempfield squads was the better over the past two years, coach Bob Kalp could not give a definitive answer. However, he certainly made a…perfect…point.
“It’s hard to argue with 27-0.”
His Lady Spartan softball team repeated as PIAA state champions with a 5-3 victory over Hazleton in the Class 6A Championship game on Thursday at Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
The back-to-back championships are the first ever to occur at the highest classification of PIAA softball. The victory also extended the Hempfield winning streak to 41 games, capping off a perfect 27-0 season.
Hempfield struck early against the District 2 champion Hazleton Cougars. Ali Belgiovane led off the top of the first inning with a base hit, her first of four. She was sacrificed to second, and attempted to go to third base on the play. She made contact with Cougar freshman shortstop Marissa Trivelpiece as she rounded second base, but no obstruction was called and Belgiovane was thrown out on the play. Jenna Osikowicz followed with a two out single, and Morgan Ryan helped herself with a RBI double to give Hempfield a 1-0 lead before Hazleton ever went to bat.
Hazleton would respond in the bottom of the second inning. After Tiana Treon led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch, Trivelpiece hit a one-out single to left. Fellow freshman Kyra Antolick drove in both runners with a two-out double, giving the Cougars a 2-1 lead.
Hempfield knotted the score back up in the top of the third. Belgiovane started the inning with her second of four hits on the afternoon, and scored on a Laura Fox double, tying the score at 2-2. Hazleton responded with two singles and a walk in the bottom of the frame, loading the bases with one out. Ryan induced a force out at the plate, followed by a fly out to end the threat and keep the Cougars off of the board.
The Lady Spartans took the lead for good in the top of the fourth inning. Stacey Walling led off the inning with a double to left field. Her pinch-runner Olivia Persin advanced to third base on a ground out. Jordan Bernard hit a fly ball to center field, not deep enough to score Persin. However, the throw to the plate deflected off of the catcher’s glove, and bounced away far enough for Persin to score on the error.
Hempfield extended the lead with a pair of runs in the fifth inning. Belgiovane again led off with a base hit to right field, and advanced to third on the play when the ball scooted under the legs of the right fielder. She then scored when an errant pickoff throw from the catcher deflected off of her back and into left field. Osikowicz singled and later scored on a Maddie Stoner RBI single to give Hempfield a 5-2 lead.
A chance to extend the lead went sour in the sixth inning for the Lady Spartans. Kelsey Tobin and Belgiovane started the inning with back-to-back infield singles. Fox attempted to sacrifice them into scoring position, but was called out for runner’s interference when the attempted throw to first base hit her in the back. It was ruled that she was in fair territory when the ball hit her.
“We stress safety all throughout the year…and we come to the state tournament and don’t use a double base,” Coach Bob Kalp said. Fox stayed in the running lane in foul territory until the last second, when she had to move into fair territory to step on the bag. “How is a kid supposed to touch the base when …she can’t be inside that lane. If she stays totally between those two white lines, she never touches the bag…It’s a judgment call, you live with it.”
The interference call ended a potential big inning for the Lady Spartans, as both runners had to return to their original base on the play.
Hazleton (21-4) would not go quietly into the night. After the first two batters were retired in the bottom of the seventh inning, Becca Rossi kept the Cougars alive with a single to center. Megan Trivelpiece followed with a hard shot to left field that bounced in and out of the glove of Autumn Beasley, putting runners on the corners. Tiana Treon, down to her last strike, drove in Rossi with a single to right field. Her hit put the tying run on first and the winning run at the plate. But Morgan Ryan came back and forced a Hope Kinney groundout to second base, retiring the side and starting the celebration.
Morgan Ryan completed her record-breaking career with her 22nd win of the season. Her 74 career victories is the most in program history. The Gatorade PA Player of the Year and Notre Dame commit struck out eight Cougar batters, scattering seven hits, walking two, and hitting one batter (all three free passes were to cleanup hitter Tiana Treon).
“Definitely I would say [it was] not my best work, but I’m a perfectionist, as most pitchers are,” said Ryan. “They had seven hits, which obviously I’m not happy about, but they were able to hit the ball wherever I put it and drive it.” She fought through the adversity and battled on to the victory. She also helped offensively, going 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Ali Belgiovane led the way offensively with a 4-for-4 performance. She scored twice for Hempfield (27-0). Eight of the nine Lady Spartans in the batting order registered a hit. Hempfield registered 13 hits in total, and not a single Hempfield batter went down on strikes.
When asked to settle the debate on which team, 2016 or 2017, was the better team, Belgiovane answered about as perfectly as her day at the plate.
“I don’t know if I’m qualified to make that decision…but we did go undefeated this season.”
After the game, coach Bob Kalp had to take a breath to realize the significance of a “perfect” season in his 21st as head coach of the Lady Spartans.
“27-0. It is pretty good. But, don’t forget, we lost 1-0 to Yough in the middle of the year in a scrimmage, so we tasted defeat in the middle of the year.”
Leave it to Coach Kalp, the perfectionist, to still be looking for the best from his squad even when the record books say undefeated. That’s a big reason that Hempfield has two more gold medals in the trophy case.
Hempfield Spartans : 1 – 0 – 1 – 1 – 2 – 0 – 0 5 – 13 – 1 – 9
Hazleton Cougars : 0 – 2 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 1 3 – 7 – 3 – 8