HYDE – District 9 Class AAA champion Clearfield\’s first test in the 2007 PIAA Softball Playoffs will be a tough one Monday at 2 p.m. at the Brockway Area High School Field, where the 11-9 Lady Bisons shut out top-seeded Punxsutawney 4-0 Wednesday.
District 7 runner-up Elizabeth Forward is 17-4, but those losses have been by a total of five runs, including 3-1 to Belle Vernon (19-5) in the WPIAL title game Thursday at California University.
The Lady Warriors\’ other losses, all 1-0, were to Belle Vernon in one of four games between the Section 4 rivals, Waynesburg Central and Peters Township (17-3), a Class AAAA team that knocked defending state champion and top seed Shaler out of the District 7 tourney in a 13-inning, 1-0 quarterfinal shocker.
Elizabeth Forward, which atoned for one defeat by blanking Waynesburg Central 2-0 and 3-0 in section play, and Belle Vernon went extra innings in their first three games. The Lady Warriors won 4-3 in eight and 2-1 in 12 before falling in the first extra frame of their regular-season finale one day after the Peters Township loss.
Coach Chris Estadt\’s predominately-underclassman team was seeded second to Ellwood City (16-1) for the WPIAL tourney and took out Laurel Highlands 7-2, Knoch 13-2 and Hampton 1-0 en route to the finals.
Like Clearfield with Mandy Rowles, Elizabeth Forward relies on a sophomore pitcher.
Lindsey Smith is 17-4 with nine shutouts and more than 175 strikeouts. She kept the Lady Warriors in the district title game despite surrendering 15 hits.
Smith is one of three sophs in the Lady Warrior starting lineup. Catcher Kristen Hawkins and shortstop Brittany Bruce are the others.
They are joined by a trio of standout freshmen in left fielder and leadoff hitter Tori Paterra, center fielder Priscilla Lamb and designated player Angelica Dull.
Dull had four hits, one a double, while Hawkins and Paterra homered against Knoch. Hawkins\’ blast was one of the longest ever hit at Elizabeth Forward\’s home field, Fairhaven Park in Kennedy Township. It cleared the concession stand building behind the left field fence and landed in another ballfield.
Hawkins and Paterra, who hit two home runs against Belle Vernon early in the season, lead the Lady Warriors with .400 averages.
First baseman Hilary Holets is the lone junior starter. Second baseman Jen McLay, third baseman and cleanup hitter Erin Lawnizak and right fielder Destiny Roehrig are seniors.
Elizabeth Forward is 5-3 in one-run games and has outscored the opposition 103-20.
Clearfield has tallied 115 runs and allowed 30, but the Lady Bisons are only 1-8 in one-run games.
Throughout the season, coach Bob Dixon has maintained his confidence in the Lady Bisons and insisted they could be competitive if they made the state playoffs.
Defense and clutch hitting are the keys for the Lady Bisons, who are hitting just under .300. Rowles averages less than one strikeout per inning, so her teammates have to make plays in the field. She has given up less than one hit an inning and less than two earned runs per game.
Rowles is a deceiving 7-8 with two shutouts, ironically both against 2006 state champion Punxsutawney. She combined with senior Brittany Pataky for a five-inning shutout at Sheffield.
Pataky had four consecutive hits in the D-9 title game to raise her average to .397. Senior shortstop Nikki Collins leads the Lady Bisons a .433, while Rowles and junior center fielder Ashley Lias have identical .373 averages.
If Dixon sticks with the lineup that faced Punxsy ace Brooke Callen, junior Alanna Luzier (.272) will be at second base, soph Megan Butler (.256) at third base, soph Julie Colesar (.308) in left field, junior Alyssa Anderson in right field and junior Kenzie McGovern behind the plate.
The Clearfield-Elizabeth Forward winner will get District 10 champ Corry or District 7 third place Hampton (15-7) in the quarterfinals on Thursday.