Thomas Jefferson softball wraps best PIAA run
It wasn’t the best record by a Thomas Jefferson softball team in school history, but it might have been the best season.
It was, at least, the Jaguars’ best postseason run in the state tournament.
Thomas Jefferson advanced to the PIAA Class 5A semifinals, falling to West Allegheny, 7-5, at Peterswood Park in Peters Township.
The Jaguars, who also lost to WA, 4-2, in the WPIAL championship game, ended up 15-7 overall.
“Our season was absolutely the best to remember,” said coach Heidi Karcher, who was assisted by John “Hoppy” Mitruski. “Did I think we would be where we are now? No, but I thought we would make the playoffs. In the offseason, I saw a lot of talent in the freshman and sophomore class, and Hoppy and I were excited about what the future would hold for us.
“We made great strides this year, but we definitely had our lulls with losses to Ringgold and West Mifflin. I think the hardest thing about coaching is keeping the girls ‘into the season’ with proms, AP tests and the end of the school year. We tried our best to keep our practices short but loaded with instruction.”
TJ’s starting lineup versus WA consisted of one senior, one junior, four sophomores and three freshmen.
The TJ girls finished with a 5-2 postseason mark, winning three WPIAL playoff games and two PIAA contests.
The Jaguars traveled to Fleetwood to defeat Twin Valley, 5-1, then to Carlisle to beat Interboro, 4-1, in the first two rounds of the state playoffs.
TJ upset Moon, 3-2, Penn-Trafford, 7-4, and Albert Gallatin, 2-0, as the No. 11 seed in the WPIAL tournament.
“Our playoff run was so full of excitement,” Karcher said. “We just kept winning and pulling out great comebacks. The travel across the state was the best scenario. We made the bus rides enjoyable watching movies, et cetera.”
In the PIAA semifinal round, the Jaguars racked up 12 hits and did not strike out once.
TJ overcame deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 3-2 to take a 5-3 lead in the top of the sixth inning thanks to junior catcher Haleigh Karcher’s booming three-run homer over the left-field fence.
But the Indians rallied for four runs in the bottom half of the inning to clinch the decision.
“The semi game was probably not our best performance,” Karcher said. “It just seemed like our youth and experience was evident. West A was making the plays and getting the big hits and getting on base, and we were not.
“I am not sure what is worse, losing early or losing late in the season when you are one step away for the biggest game of a high school athlete’s life.”
TJ’s starting lineup against WA consisted senior Liz Brock (1B), Karcher (C), sophomores Bella Bucy (P), Abby Chalovich (SS), Alana Cleary (OF) and Mackenzie Zang (OF); and freshmen Paige Truax (2B), Lily Rockwell (3B) and Claire Whalen (OF).
Alyssa Natter and Adara Getsy, a pair of junior outfielders, served as pinch runners.
Brock went 4 for 4 with two RBIs against the Indians. Karcher had three hits and three RBIs. Bucy added two hits including a double. Zang laced a long single off the left-field fence.
Along with Natter and Getsy, other leading reserves were seniors Kimmy Bachman (OF) and Jenna Herazo (OF); plus juniors Maura Gdovic (1B), Lauren Liberi (3B/OF), Mackenzie Alava (OF), Sarah Thornton (2B/P) and Erika Vogel (P/1B).
Liberi and Thornton saw starting time at third base and at designated player this season.
The Jaguars batted .345 as a team, and averaged 6.5 runs.
“For how young the team was, I think we did great,” Brock said. “The last game, we had one senior and one junior playing. That speaks volumes about the team. I can’t wait to see where they go the next couple of years.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.