SLIPPERY ROCK — Clarion took advantage of a few early mistakes by Commodore Perry and rode a dominant pitching performance by Kaitlyn Constantino to a 6-0 victory in the PIAA Class A opening round at Slippery Rock University Monday afternoon.
The win was the Lady Cats’ first in the PIAA playoffs since 2011, as the team made a run all the way to the Class A title game that year.
“It means a lot, it’s been eight years since we won a state playoff game,” Clarion head coach Dan Shofestall said. “The girls were hungry for it, I could see it this morning on their faces.”
“It means a lot to them and a lot to our school, we love to represent our school, the KSAC and District 9 and we are just proud to be a part of that.”
In Monday’s contest, Clarion (18-5) jumped out to an early lead, scoring five runs in the first three innings as four Lady Panthers errors led to four unearned runs in the early going.
The District 10 champions Commodore Perry were designated as the away team as they had the first opportunity at the plate but had trouble getting anything going against Constantino in the early going.
Constantino made quick work of the Lady Panthers in the top of the first, striking out a pair after the game got started with a groundout to short as Clarion got to work in the home half of the inning.
Carly Best reached with one out after being hit by a pitch then moved to second on a wild pitch with Brenna Campbell at the plate, who was later struck out for the second out of the frame.
Jordan Best then came through with a big two-out hit, ripping a pitch over the center fielder’s head for a double to plate Carly Best and give Clarion the early lead.
Tori Vega followed by hitting a high fly ball in the middle of the infield, as the ball was dropped by Commodore Perry’s shortstop allowing Jordan Best to score the second run of the inning.
Vega was thrown out at first on the play after venturing too far off the bag as the first inning ended with Clarion in front 2-0.
“We got an early start today, we’ve struggled a little bit getting runs early in the game,” Shofestall said. “Today we came out and got runs early and I think that was big and it makes you relax especially with Kaitlyn (Constantino) pitching.”
Constantino continued to shut things down in the second behind a another pair of strikeouts as the Lady Cats got back to work offensively.
Lindsey Kemmer led off the bottom of the second with a single to left field, before Payton Simko reached on a dropped fly ball in the infield to put two runners on with nobody out.
Ava Kiser then laid down a well-executed sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position with one away.
Noel Anthony followed by hitting a sacrifice fly to right field to bring home Kemmer to push the lead to 3-0.
In the top of the third Constantino was about as perfect as a pitcher can be in an inning on her way to accomplishing an immaculate inning.
The junior struck out the side in commanding fashion, firing just nine pitches all for strikes as she remained perfect through three innings.
In the bottom of the third, Campbell was able to reach on a one-out error on a grounder to short before Jordan Best worked a walk to put two runners aboard.
After a strikeout for the second out of the inning, Kemmer hit a fly ball into foul territory along the third-base side, as it appeared Commodore Perry would escape the jam.
Instead, the Lady Panthers third baseman and catcher collide on the play as the ball fell to the ground and kept Kemmer’s at-bat alive.
On the very next pitch Kemmer drove a pitch into left-center field for a double to score Campbell and Jordan Best, who raced all the way around from first to narrowly beat the tag of Commodore Perry catcher Mackenzie Larimer at home.
The two runs gave Clarion a 5-0 lead after three innings of play as that proved to be more than enough for Constantino in the circle.
The Lady Cats pitcher struck out two more in the fourth despite allowing her first baserunner of the game after issuing a two-out walk to Larimer.
In the fifth with two outs the Lady Panthers put an end to the no-hit bid, as Faith Cox hit a bloop single to left-center with two away.
The final run of the day came in the bottom of the fifth when Campbell drove a pitch to left field that bounced off the top of the wall and over for a solo home run to bring the score to 6-0.
Constantino allowed one single in both the sixth and seventh innings but that was hit, as she finished things off herself with a put out on a groundout back at her for the final out.
In the end Constantino had struck out 12 while allowing just three hits and walking one to secure the shoutout victory for the Lady Cats.
“We have to work the next two nights and tomorrow night is the most important practice of the year,” Shofestall said. “We just need to come in and keep believing in what we’re doing and give the perfect effort in practice every night and the perfect effort in each game.”
Clarion now advances to the PIAA quarterfinals where it will take on WPIAL champion West Greene Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
West Greene, the two-time defending PIAA Class A state champions, defeated District 5 runner-up Rockwood 8-1 Monday.