PHOTO: Kaya Hannon pitches for Tunkhannock earlier this postseason. (Zachary Allen Photo)
By Tom Robinson, NEPANation.com
DUNMORE – Youth sports success – even extreme examples of it – provides no guarantee of similar achievements on the high school level.
It certainly does not automatically translate to immediate results.
The Tunkhannock girls softball team, particularly the current sophomore class, however, continues to show off its exceptional abilities.
In their debut season on the high school level, the Lady Tigers will play in a state championship game after defeating Bethlehem Catholic, 5-1, Monday night in a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 4A semifinal at Marywood University.
The majority of the players are familiar with playing in a high-profile championship game.
Tunkhannock played in the 2018 Little League Softball World Series championship game. That group of players was among those who did not get to have a season when all 2020 spring high school sports were canceled in Pennsylvania.
“It’s fantastic for them,” Tunkhannock coach Bob Hegedty said. “They have to realize they have to keep working hard and keep pushing forward.”
The group’s delayed debut has already resulted in a Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 title and a District 2 Class 4A championship. Now, it has produced the second Tunkhannock state championship game appearance. The Lady Tigers will try to claim the first state title in school history Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at Penn State when they face unbeaten District 7 champion Beaver.
The lineup Tunkhannock used to get there by beating Bethlehem Catholic included six sophomores and a freshman among the nine starters. Another sophomore was among the two subs the team used.
“We knew we were going to be good in high school, but we didn’t think we’d make it this far as sophomores,” said catcher Paige Marabell, who slugged a no-doubt-about-it home run to center field for Monday’s final run.
Pitcher Kaya Hannon shook off control issues while facing the three batters and was in command the rest of the way.
“Everything was spot on,” said Marabell, the catcher. “The change-up, there were only two that were balls. After the first inning, she was lights-out.”
Hannon got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first, yielding only a single run on a sacrifice fly, beginning a stretch of 15 straight that she retired to carry a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
“There were a couple of things I’ve been working on to try to throw harder instead of just aiming to throw strikes,” Hannon said. “I just wanted to throw hard and then the strikes would come.”
Hannon, who had shutouts in the first two round of the state tournament, finished with a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts.
“We had a big enough lead that I had the opportunity to work through a couple of things,” Hannon said, “so it wasn’t as big of a deal.
“I figured out the location of all my pitches.”
The bloop single by leadoff hitter Abby Rodriguez in the sixth and a clean, two-out single to left by Teighan Boyle accounted for the only two base runners after the first three reached on a hit batter and two walks.
The last out came in bizarre fashion.
The first-base umpire called timeout and came to home plate to inspect the bat. It was determined that junior Angie Iovino had stepped into the batter’s box with an illegal bat – one that lacked the National Federation stamp certifying it for high school use.
Iovino was called out, for the game’s final out, without a pitch being throw. By rule, she was also ejected from the game, even though it was not continuing, leading to an automatic suspension for the first game of her senior year.
Tunkhannock had no such difficulties at the plate.
The Lady Tigers pounded the ball on their way to 11 hits off Emma Bond.
“We left a lot of runs out there,” Hegedty said after his team left 10 runners on base. “We left a lot of runners on base. We got a really good scouting report on her and how she liked to throw.
“ … We came in pretty well prepared.”
They got plenty in, beginning with two in the top of the first.
Marabell walked with one out.
Gabby Wood then doubled to the left-field fence.
Emily Schultz came up with a clutch two-run single to left field with two out.
The Lady Tigers added two more in the third for a 4-1 lead.
Wood led off with a walk and Tunkhannock got hits from three out of four batters at one point.
Schultz, who finished with three hits, singled with one out.
Sydney Huff and Hannah James had back-to-back, two-out singles to score Wood and Schultz.
The game was delayed more than two hours when lightning arrived in the area as Tunkhannock was nearing the completion of pregame infield drills.