Wyoming Valley West first baseman Sarah Gurgal makes the putout in the second inning of Friday’s District 2 Class 4A semifinal softball game at Hazleton Area. WVW eliminated Hazleton 7-5.Pete g.wilcox/the times leader
HAZLETON – In the last few years, Hazleton Area has been a nemesis for Wyoming Valley West, winning the last six Wyoming Valley Conference Division I titles and six of the previous seven District 2 championships.
On Friday, the Spartans got a bit of payback as they knocked the Cougars out of the District 2 Class 4A tournament with a 7-5 victory in a semifinal contest at Hazleton Area High School.
The loss for the Cougars ends a streak of seven straight appearances in the district title game. It also ended a 12-game winning streak.
Valley West (12-4) advances to Thursday’s championship game against Williamsport (16-4) at a site and time to be announced. The Millionaires advanced by defeating Delaware Valley (12-3) 3-2 on Friday in the other semifinal.
“It’s a great feeling to beat Hazleton,” said Valley West senior catcher Natalie Mitchell, who will attend Division I Alabama-Birmingham on an athletic and academic scholarship in the fall. “Hazleton always plays a good game against us and that rivalry is always present. You can see it with the way the crowd cheers back and forth.”
The Spartans started the game with two hits in each of the first three innings off Hazleton starter Brittany Kringer but didn’t get anything across.
Finally, in the fourth inning, they broke through to score all seven runs. Mitchell (4-for-4) and Kristie Rollman each had two-run singles in the inning and Sarah Gurgal (2-for-4) smacked a two-run double. The other run scored on a single by Ashley Carver. All seven runs were scored before Kringer recorded an out.
“Our whole team played really well,” Mitchell said. “A lot of our underclassmen stepped up and did a really good job of going up there swinging and looking for strikes and that really helped us.”
Hazleton standout pitcher Heather Dale relieved Kringer and struck out the first four batters she faced. She only gave up three hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings.
According to Hazleton coach Ron Cann, Dale didn’t start because Friday was her first game back from mononucleosis and he wasn’t going to use her if it wasn’t needed. She was also on a pitch count and was taken out in the top of the seventh inning.
“We were in shock she did so well,” Cann said. “She did a heck of a job. There’s nothing else I can say. Having not pitched in two weeks, that shows you what she has. She’s a heck of a player.”
The Cougars (12-3) scored their first run in the bottom of the fifth when Alyssa Rodezwich knocked in Marie Donadi with a double and the score was 7-1.
Then with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, the Cougars made a run.
After Spartan pitcher Jess Ras struck out the first two batters, Kelsey Landis singled and Brianna Dudeck reached on an error. Dale then drove in Landis with a single and Katie Kmiecinski followed with a single that scored Dudeck and Dale to cut the lead to 7-4.
Brianna Huff then reached on an error and Kmiecinski scored to cut the lead to 7-5. But Ras settled down and struck out Kringer to end the game.
“We’re a fighting team and they fought to the last out,” Cann said. “We were behind the eight ball a little bit, but you have to give credit to our kids, they came and worked hard. These kids got guts.
“From when we started the season 0-2 to right now and being down 7-0, they never gave up. We’re damn proud to be coaches of these kids.”
Ras, a junior, finished the game with 11 strikeouts and only one earned run allowed.
Kmiecinski led Hazleton’s offense with a 2-for-4 performance.
“We’re a fighting team and they fought to the last out. We were behind the eight ball a little bit, but you have to give credit to our kids, they came and worked hard. These kids got guts.”