Tunkhannock softball and Lake-Lehman and Wyoming Area baseball play in the PIAA semifinals on Monday. That in itself is an accomplishment considering all spring sports were canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moral victories are nice, but all three will be looking for the real thing. Tunkhannock has already played for a state title. Lehman and Wyoming Area are looking to get there for the first time.
Tickets are $8 and can only be purchased online at piaa.org/sports/tickets.
Tunkhannock (22-2) vs.
Bethlehem Catholic (16-8)
Class 4A semifinals
4 p.m. Monday
District 2 champion Tunkhannock received a break with the game being played in its backyard — sort of — while D11 champion Bethlehem Catholic has to take a long bus ride. Semifinal games are usually played at a midway point and when the teams played in the 2018 state quarterfinals, the game was at Central Columbia High School.
However, both teams traveled similar paths to get here, with a close call in the first round followed by a relatively comfortable win in the quarterfinals.
Becahi, a moniker the school often uses, edged D12 third seed Archbishop Ryan 3-2 in eight innings in the first round. The Hawks followed with a 6-0 win over D1 champion Villa Joseph Marie in the quarterfinals.
Junior pitcher Emma Bond has 168 strikeouts in 140.2 innings with a 2.99 ERA. Senior Jaden Sprigner is Becahi’s top hitter with a .453 average and a team-leading 39 RBI. She’s also clubbed three homers. Junior Jordan Merklin is hitting .408 with 19 RBI and five triples. Senior Ashley Judd is second on the team with 23 RBI and is batting .383. Junior Teighan Boyle leads the team with five home runs and is batting .348.
Tunkhannock has four players hitting over .400 — lead-off slap hitter Ella McNeff (.437, 35 runs), power hitters Nicole Howell (.427, 4 HR, 30 RBI) and Paige Marabell (.427, 8 HR, 31 RBI) and Gabby Wood (.423, 2 HR, 29 RBI).
Pitcher Kaya Hannon brings a 1.46 ERA with 224 strikeouts in 148.2 innings pitched into the game.
The Tigers lost in the Class 4A championship game in 2018 and had their 2019 season ended by Becahi 4-1 in the state quarterfinals in 2018.
The winner plays for the state championship at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Penn State against either D7 champion Beaver (19-0) or D7 runner-up Highlands (17-5-1).
vs. Oley Valley (20-5)
Class 3A semifinals
3:30 p.m. Monday
Prior to this season, the last game District 2 champion Lake-Lehman played was in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals in 2019. The Black Knights lost and never had a chance to redeem themselves in 2020 as all spring sports were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Redemption has been a sometimes bumpy road for the Black Knights, who have about half their lineup back from that 2019 semifinal game. They needed a five-run bottom of the seventh to edge D4 champ Loyalsock 13-12 and then defeated D3 runner-up Trinity 2-0 in the quarterfinals.
Lefty Ty Federici, an LSU commit, threw over 105 pitches vs. Trinity but will have the required three-day rest to be able to throw again. However, he’ll likely slide to a relief role and Virginia Tech recruit Nick Finarelli will start. The right-hander has a 2.06 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.
While the Lehman pitching duo collects strikeouts at a high volume, D3 champ Oley Valley has one pitcher in that category — senior Garet Blankenbiller. He has struck out 68 in 62.1 innings. The Lynx also have three other reliable arms, but none can be categorized as strikeout pitchers.
Oley Valley, though, does have hitters. The Lynx banged out 14 hits in their 8-6 win over D2 runner-up Scranton Prep in the quarterfinals. They led 7-1 going into the fifth inning. Chase Reifsnyder (.392), Blankenbiller (.346) and Evan Solley (.344) lead the offense.
Lehman’s Luke Spencer missed a chunk of the season because of a nagging hamstring, but has returned to his pre-injury form. He’s hitting .514 followed by Connor Morgan (.466), Max Paczewski (.456), Federici (.421) and Graedon Finerelli (.407).
The winner plays at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the state championship game at Penn State against either D6 champion Central (22-2) or D6 runner-up Tyrone (20-4).
Wyoming Area (14-6)
vs. Bonner-Prendie (16-7)
Class 4A semifinals
6:30 p.m. Monday
District 2 champion Wyoming Area’s run to the semifinals is unique but not unprecedented. Just four years ago, Dallas finished a game above .500 in the Wyoming Valley Conference yet went on to win the Class 4A state championship.
Wyoming Area finished 5-6 in WVC Division 2, good only for fourth place. The reason could probably be traced to two factors.
First, the program was shut down prior to the season because of a COVID-19 situation and only lead-off hitter Evan Melberger and East Tennessee State recruit Jake Kelleher were consistent at the plate when things resumed. Secondly, WVC Division 2 was loaded with Division I college pitching recruits top to bottom.
Wyoming Area has one of those recruits in UConn commit JJ Hood, who is 8-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. He was also among the Warriors to turned things around at the plate. After a 1-for-14 start, he went on to hit .500 the rest of the regular season with three home runs.
Sophomore Jack Mathis and junior Hunter Lawall were also off to pedestrian starts before regrouping. The Warriors now have five players hitting better than .300 — Kelleher (.400), Hood (.391), Melberger (.361), Mathis (.344) and Lawall (.321).
The best hitter, though, is arguably on D12 champion Bonner-Prendie, which is short for Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast Catholic. Auburn recruit Kevin McGonigle is hitting .491 with seven home runs and 23 RBI.
Bonner-Prendie defeated D1 champ Holy Ghost Prep 9-7 in the quarterfinals. Henrich pitched 4.2 innings and allowed four hits and only two earned runs. He is among four arms available who have averaged better than a strikeout per inning.
The winner plays at 1:30 p.m. Friday for the state championship at Penn State against either D7 champ New Castle (17-9) or D7 runner-up Montour (17-6).