Leopards win WPIAL 4A softball crown in extra-innings thriller

Belle Vernon scored three times in the eighth and hung on to defeat Montour 8-7

Wed May 31, 2023 - 4:51PM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers
Belle Vernon knocked off the top two seeds in the bracket to capture its fifth WPIAL championship.Belle Vernon knocked off the top two seeds in the bracket to capture its fifth WPIAL championship.

Last Updated: Fri Jun 02, 2023 - 4:06PM

With Montour’s Jana Hess racing home in the bottom of the eighth inning as the potential tying run, Belle Vernon Area’s Gracie Sokol applied the tag a split second before Hess reached the plate, giving the Leopards a thrilling 8-7 victory in extra innings in the WPIAL Class 4A Championship on Tuesday.

With the dramatic outcome at Lilley Field at California University of Pennsylvania, Belle Vernon Area claimed its fifth WPIAL softball crown, and first since 2018.

After the Leopards and Spartans were deadlocked at 5-5 after seven innings, Belle Vernon Area scored three runs in the top of the eighth. Katie Sokol drew a one-out walk, and Alexa Daniels followed with an RBI triple that put fourth seed BVA in the lead. Gracie Sokol subsequently provided a sacrifice fly to bring home Daniels. The Leopards (18-4) tacked on a third run in the inning on three consecutive singles, the third of which by Lauren VanDivner plated Maren Metikosh.

That insurance proved crucial, as No. 2 Montour (15-4) rallied in the bottom of the inning against BVA pitcher Talia Ross. Mia Ardnt was hit by a pitch to open the frame, and she later beat a throw to second on a fielders’ choice, allowing Avrie Polo to reach base. Hess walked to load the bases with one out, putting the tying run aboard. An RBI groundout by Shania Cope scored Ardnt to make it 8-6, and Kaitlin Molitoris ripped a single to left, which scored Polo. Daniels’ throw to the plate was errant, which prompted Hess to break for home. BVA catcher Mia Zubovic quickly retrieved the ball, though, and her flip to Sokol resulted in the final out.

The teams battled back and forth throughout regulation play, beginning in the first inning. BVA scored twice in the top of the frame on a two-run single by VanDivner. The Spartans responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning on a single by Cope.

Montour took the lead in the second inning, as Danielle Terpack led off with a double, and Hailey Staub followed with a walk. After a sacrifice bunt, both players scored on a single by Ardnt, which prompted Belle Vernon Area to call upon Ross to replace starting pitcher Olivia Kolowitz.

While Ross limited the Spartans to one run over the next five innings, the Leopards showed their offensive firepower, scoring twice in the third. Metikosh drew a one-out walk and Mia Zubovic followed with a single. Mia’s sister, Ava Zubovic, plated both of her teammates on a base hit to center to deadlock the score.

Although Montour regained the lead on an RBI single by Giacinta Labrie in the fourth, the Leopards again pulled even on another RBI single by Ava Zubovic in the fifth.

VanDivner was a catalyst for BVA offensively, as she went 4-for-5 with three RBIs.

“We just built a really strong bond with each other, and I feel like that’s why we work so well together,” the sophomore third baseman said of her team’s chemistry.

Additionally, Mia Zubovic posted three hits and a walk, while Ava Zubovic had a pair of hits and three RBIs. Ross worked 6.2 innings in relief to earn the win, surrendering three runs on five hits, while she issued six walks and registered 10 strikeouts.

In the defeat, Montour received two-hit efforts from Ardnt, Labrie, and Cope, while Staub and Polo scored a pair of runs. Molitoris went the distance in the circle, giving up eight runs on a dozen hits while issuing four free passes and amassing six strikeouts.

Both teams advance to the PIAA Class 4A postseason, which will begin on Monday. The Leopards will face the third-place team from District 3.