PHOTO: Gianna Russo has the game-winning homer in two of the last three West Scranton games. (Zachary Allen Photo)
Gianna Russo ripped a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning and West Scranton’s defense ended the game by tagging out the potential tying run at the plate Thursday as the Lady Invaders continued the most successful softball season in school history with a 7-6 victory over West Chester East in a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 5A state quarterfinal at Patriots Park in Allentown.
The Lady Invaders have won eight straight to improve to 14-3 and reach the semifinals of the state tournament, which they had never been a part of before.
Russo has game-winning home runs in two of the three biggest victories. Her home run provided the only run in a 1-0 victory over Abington Heights, avenging two of the team’s three losses this season and lifted West Scranton to its first district and subregional titles in the District 2-4 final.
The Lady Invaders had allowed just five runs in their previous six games before West Chester East took a 6-4 lead through 3½ innings.
West Scranton rallied in the fifth when the first four runners reached base.
Madison Maloney, the only Lady Invader with two hits in the game, started it with a single.
Winning pitcher Mia Butka then reached by being hit by a pitch.
Russo fouled off a 3-2 pitch before sending the ball out of the park in right field.
Maloney and Butka each scored for the second time. Russo, who had a sacrifice fly for a 4-2 lead in the first inning, finished with four RBI.
Olivia Dougher followed Russo’s home run with a single, but West Chester East pitcher Jess Gomez recovered to get the next three outs.
The drama did not end with the home run.
West Chester East had a runner thrown out at third to start the sixth inning, then had 3 of its 13 hits in the seventh. The seventh began with consecutive hits.
Butka got her third strikeout, then fielded a grounder and forced out the lead runner at third base, making it two outs with runners on first and second.
Abbey McCormick singled to center field where Russo got to the ball quickly and threw for home, temporarily freezing lead runner Jess Gomez.
The throw got away from catcher Isabella Summa, however, and Gomez broke for the plate, trying to tie the game.
Summa recovered the ball and threw to Butka covering the plate where she was able to tag Gomez to end the game.
The offenses got started early.
West Chester East scored two runs in the top of the first on the first of two home runs by Carey Werley, who finished with five RBI.
Maloney and Butka started the bottom of the first with consecutive doubles to open the West Scranton scoring.
Butka took third on a throw to try to get Maloney at home, then scored on Russo’s sacrifice fly.
Amelia Noll singled and scored for the Lady Invaders, who got the last two runs of the inning on an error.
Amanda Gomez had three hits, including two doubles, for West Chester East. Jess Gomez had two.
West Scranton advances to Monday’s semifinal. The Lady Invaders head back to Patriots Park to play District 3 champion Lampeter-Strasburg (25-1) in a 2 p.m.