LORETTO — A berth in the Class A state semifinals will be on the line today when DuBois Central Catholic battles District 6 champion Claysburg-Kimmel at St. Francis University at 2:30 p.m.
Both softball programs are no strangers to the state playoffs in recent years, but today’s matchup will be the first between the two since Claysburg knocked off DCC, 8-2, in the opening round of the states back in 2014.
That 2014 matchup was the beginning of Central Catholic’s run of four state playoff appearances in five years that was jump-started when the likes of Jordy Frank, Riley Assalone, Macey Hanes and Libby maurer reached the varsity level. That quartet were freshmen back in 2014 when they helped lead DCC to its first District 9 title in 33 years.
The Lady Cardinals have become one of the Class A state powers since then and enter today in search of their third straight trip to the Class A Final Four. A victory today by DCC, the third-palce team from District 9, puts the Lady Cardinals in the East Finals.
It’s a different path than the program took the previous two years when Central reached the West Finals after capturing back-to-back D-9 titles.
To reach the Final Four, Central Catholic will have to beat a Claysburg program that has state experience that runs even deeper than the Lady Cardinals.
The Lady Bulldogs are in the state playoffs for the eighth time in the last 10 years and have reached the state semifinals three times during that stretch — the last coming in 2014 after its win against DCC. Claysburg made a run to the state finals that year before falling to Minersville, 4-1.
Since five years have passed since their last state meeting, the current editions of the Lady Cardinals and Lady Bulldogs will be seeing each other for the first time on the field.
Both teams have one thing in common — each lost to eventual state champ West Greene in last year’s postseason. West Greene topped Claysburg, 3-1, in the state quarterfinals before upending DCC, 9-5, in the state semifinals for the second straight year. If either sees West Greene this year, it will be in the state championship game.
Central Catholic (20-2) has rebounded in a big way since an 8-6 loss to Elk County Catholic in the District 9 semifinals. The Lady Cardinals responded with an 8-1 win against A-C Valley in the D-9 consolation game before knocking off D-5 champ Meyersdale, 8-1, in the opening round of states Monday.
The main force in those two wins has been junior pitcher Ashley Wruble, who bounced back with two dominant performances after being hit for one of the few times this season by the Lady Crusaders.
Wruble allowed one unearned run on four hits while striking out seven in the win against A-C Valley, then gave up one unearned runs on two hits while striking out five and walking two vs. Merysdale.
She is 19-2 on the season now, sporting a 1.25 ERA with 115 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 118 innings of work.
Wruble also is the leading hitter for a Lady Cardinals squad that boasts a .438 team batting average. Wruble enters today hitting .661 (37-for-56) with 30 RBIs, 44 runs, six doubles, six triples and five home runs.
Seven other Lady Cardinals in the starting batting order have averages of .364 or better with sophomore Shayleigh Gulvas (.532) and freshman Mia Meholick (.507) giving DCC a trio of hitter over .500. Gulvas leads team in hits (41), runs (45) and doubles (10), while Meholick has a team-high 40 RBIs to go along with 31 runs, eight doubles, four triples and two homers.
Junior Carley Semancik, who blasted a grand slam in the win against Meyersdale, has added some extra thunder in the middle of the order in her first year as a starter, Semancik currently sits at .470 (31-for-66) with 35 RBIs, 30 runs, three doubles, four triples and five homers.
Freshman Chelsea Busatto (.441, 23 RBIs, 3 homers) and sophomore Maia Cogley (.411, 27 runs) also sport averages over .400.
All that could firepower could be tough for Claysburg to handle, especially when a look at the stats (available through D-6 title game) shows the Lady Bulldogs (18-4) have a 4.12 team ERA.
The duo of freshman Olivia Bushore and junior Madison Knisely have logged the bulk of the innings for the Lady Bulldogs. Bushore is 8-1 with 68 strikeouts, 49 walks and a 3.20 ERA in 76 2/3 innings. Knisely was 6-1 with a 6.41 ERA in 31 2/3 innings.
With pitching numbers like that, it should be no surprise the Lady Bulldogs have had to outslug teams at times this season.
Claysburg — which beat Sullivan County 11-1 in five innings Monday — enters today with a .384 team average, with eight different Lady Bulldog regulars sitting at .300 or better.
Knisely is among the team’s leading hitters at .417 (30-for-72) and has a team-hgih 32 RBIs and eight doubles. Junior Emily Claar (.421) leads the team with 32 hits, 29 runs and two homers to go along with six doubles.
Freshman Haileigh Reed leads the team with a .453 average (29-for-64) with 26 RBIs, 24 runs and seven doubles. Other key pieces to the Claysburg offense include senior Mikalynn Bauman (.400, 23 RBIs, 23 runs, 5 doubles) and junior Jasmine Kennedy (.429, 16 RBIs, 5 doubles) among others.
The winner advances to Monday’s state semifinals against either D-11 champ Williams Valley or D-3 champ Greenwood. Williams Valley was the state runner-up last year and won the state title two years ago.