TUNKHANNOCK — For the first time since 2004, Pittston Area’s softball team appeared in a district semifinal. Now, the Patriots will play for the school’s first district championship.
Pittston Area took a two-run lead on Tunkhannock twice in the final three innings and both times the Tigers’ bats came through to keep the game going.
The lone run Pittston Area pushed across in the top of the ninth proved to be the difference as the sixth-seeded Patriots defeated Tunkhannock, 8-7, in a District 2 Class 3A semifinal game Thursday.
The Patriots reached the district semifinal for the first time in more than a decade with a pair of wins earlier in the week. Thanks to a two-hit shutout from Taylor Baloga and a grand slam from Mindina Lieback, the Patriots dispatched West Scranton, 10-0 on Monday.
In the quarterfinals Wednesday, the Abbey Bradigan drove in two runs and Blaoga drove in the third as the Patriots beat North Pocono, 3-0. Baloga tossed a three-hit shutout.
The game against Tunkhannock was moved to Thursday because of Pittston Area’s prom on Friday. In the deciding inning against the Tigers, the Patriots used some small ball to get past.
Bradigan led off the final inning with a single and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Shayla Williams. The next batter, Julie Silinskie, reached base on an infield single and Lexi Felinski, a freshman, drove in Bradigan for the winning run on a sacrifice fly to center field.
Despite her youth, Pittston Area head coach Vito Quaglia was confident with Felinski in the batters box during a key moment in the game.
“She has the poise and maturity at the plate of an upperclassmen,” Quaglia said. “She swings at good pitches and goes deep into counts. She’s the spark plug to our engine.”
After both teams were scoreless over the first two innings, Felinski led off the bottom of the third with a solo home run over the fence in left-center field.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game like this one,” Felinski said. “I was just trying to hit line drives and it’s amazing to get this win for the seniors.”
Second-seeded Tunkhannock (13-4) countered with three runs in the bottom of the inning on RBIs from Kendra Schultz, Jenna Simmons and Kailey Reposa.
After Tunkhannock took the 2-1 lead, Quaglia made a pitching change, with a runner on second and one out, replacing ace Taylor Baloga with Nina Cencetti.
Reposa doubled to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead, but after walking the next batter, Paige Mokychic, Cencetti retired the next two batters.
“We had a tough game yesterday against North Pocono in the heat and to come right back and pitch here against a great team, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on (Baloga),” Quaglia said of the switch. “Nina is a different type of pitcher and I knew that would give them a little bit of a different look.”
Mindina Lieback drove in Silinski, who walked to start the top of the fifth inning, with a single into right field, cutting the Patriots deficit to one run.
Pittston Area took a 5-3 lead in the top of the sixth inning after Baloga and Cencetti scored on a wild pitch and Taryn Ashby doubled to score Silinski. With its season on the line, Tunkhannock came through with two runs.
Pittston Area regained the lead in the top of the eighth when Lieback lined a double to drive in Silinskie and Felinski, who each singled.
Once again, Tunkhannock responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth when Hope Jones belted a bases-loaded ground rule double to tie the game at seven. Cencetti induced two consecutive pop outs to escape the jam and send the game to a ninth inning.
After Pittston Area took the lead in the top of the inning, Cencetti retired the Tunkhannock side in order to seal the win.
“She doesn’t have a conscience on the mound,” Quaglia said. “If she gives up a hit, she moves on to the next pitch and doesn’t get shaken. I can’t say enough about her effort.”
Sunday Dispatch reporter Nick Wagner contributed to this story.