By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
ALLENTOWN – Pittston Area hit home runs in the first two and the last two innings Monday night, powering its way to the first team state championship game appearance in any sport in school history with an 8-4 victory over Oxford in a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 5A softball semifinal at Patriots Park.
Tori Para led the way as the Lady Patriots scored their runs two at a time, building a big lead and giving them enough to withstand a big inning by the Hornets.
Para, coming off a walk-off, two-run double in the state quarterfinals, hit home runs in the first and last innings to lead the power surge and send Pittston Area into Thursday afternoon’s state final against District 7 champion Armstrong at Penn State’s Baird Field.
“It’s such an amazing feeling coming out as a senior, being in the state finals, because Pittston Area has never made it that far,” Para said.
Sage Weidlich and freshman Marina Antal also homered.
The Lady Patriots took a 4-0 lead in the first 1½ innings when Weidlich and Kallie Booth had singles preceding the homers by Para and Weidlich, making each a two-run shot.
Then, Antal and Para led off the sixth and seventh innings with homers and, with coach Frank Parente recognizing the importance of insurance runs even with an apparently comfortable lead, the Lady Patriots followed each leadoff homer by manufacturing an additional run.
“We knew we were in a game,” Pittston Area coach Frank Parente said. “That’s why we were manufacturing runs twice.”
The extra run in the sixth – for a 6-0 lead – proved valuable in the bottom of the inning as Oxford applied pressure by scoring four runs and getting two more runners on base.
Then, rebuilding the lead to four in the top of the seventh paid off in making the only baserunner of the bottom of the inning seem much less significant.
The Patriots used the entire lineup to produce their eight runs.
“That’s great,” Weidlich said. “I love to see that.”
The top eight players in the lineup had hits and the ninth hitter, Maura Mihalka bunted Skylar Borthwick over to third base where she could score the sixth run on a Kallie Booth sacrifice fly. Six different players scored and five drove in runs.
Para, Weidlich, Giardina and Borthwick each had 2 of the 12 hits.
“I had a lot of confidence coming up to the plate the first time,” said Para, who has hits in all but one game during the 24-0 season, continuing a strong state tournament in which she is 5-for-8 with three homers, a double and eight RBI. “I felt like I knew what she was going to throw me.”
Weidlich scored in the first two innings.
Giardina scored the final run.
Borthwick doubled and scored.
After Antal’s line drive home run started the sixth, Borthwick singled. She took second on a wild pitch, then kept advancing with help from Mihalka and Booth.
Following Para’s second home run, Giardina singled and went to second on an error. She took third on Ava Callahan’s sacrifice and scored on a groundout by winning pitcher Gianna Adams.
“Credit to Maura and Ava for getting those bunts down and great job by Gianna to get the grounder and Kallie to get the sacrifice fly,” Parente said. “Huge, huge runs.”
Antal said the team could feel the offensive outburst coming after being held to their two lowest-scoring outputs of the year over the last three games.
“We were just hitting very well before the game,” she said. “We felt like we were going to do great today and we did.”
Oxford scored all of its runs – the most of the season against Pittston Area – in the bottom of the sixth by combining three hits with two walks, a wild pitch and an error.
The Hornets got the tying runs on base and the go-ahead run to the plate before Adams worked out of the jam with a strikeout. She retired four of the last five Oxford batters to secure the team’s 24th win.
“She’s the calmest kid in the room,” Parente said. “She might appear at times to be a little rattled, but she just doesn’t get rattled.
“She just loves the big moments and she thrives in competition.”
One win from a state title, Parente said the Lady Patriots may need to be just a bit better Thursday.
“We’re going to have to be a little stronger under adversity,” he said. “Armstrong is a great team and they hit.
“We need to keep our composure if they’re scoring some runs and hopefully we can hit like we hit today.”