SCRANTON – Madisyn Antal showed off power, in both her bat and arm.
The sophomore third baseman had plenty of company.
As a result, Pittston Area won easily in its debut in the PIAA state softball tournament.
Antal hit a three-run homer, drove in another run and was a big part of an impressive defensive effort when the Lady Patriots defeated West Chester Henderson, 10-2, in a Class 5A first-round game at the University of Scranton’s Magis Field.
“We hit the ball all year and then we went into a little funk at the end of the year,” Pittston Area coach Vito Quaglia said. “After those last couple games where we didn’t hit, we basically told them, ‘just be yourselves, we know you can hit’.”
Now, the Warriors know it, too.
Antal drove in four runs with three hits and teamed with Alexa McHugh, who went 4-for-4, to lead a 15-hit attack.
The top players in the order combined to go 9-for-12 and score seven runs.
Leadoff hitter Gabby Para was 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Lexi Felinski followed her in the order and contributed a double, single, three runs and an RBI. McHugh had a double and scored twice.
Morgan Mesaris, who doubled, and winning pitcher Nina Cencetti each had hits that drove in a pair of runs.
Cencetti allowed only two unearned runs and got herself out of trouble with a bases-loaded strikeout in the sixth.
“Nina did a great job again,” Quaglia said. “She’s a kid who hits her spots. She trusts her defense. She doesn’t try to go up there and do too much.”
The only Pittston Area error, on a mishandled sacrifice bunt in the top of the second, led to the two unearned runs, but the defense otherwise was extremely sharp.
Freshman shortstop Tiara George and Antal each handled six chances on the left side of the infield. Charging bunts and reacting quickly to a ball off Cencetti’s glove gave Antal a chance to display her throwing arm.
Henderson mistakenly challenged Pittston Area catcher Bailey Loyack and her arm – twice.
Leadoff hitter Kasey Collins was hit by a pitch to open the game and tried to steal on the first pitch. With the Warriors leading, 2-0, Grace Abbonizio drew a one-out walk in the third and did the same thing.
Both were thrown out easily, keeping Henderson from adding to its lead and potentially seizing control of the game.
“When you play teams (in the state tournament), they don’t really know each other too well,” Quaglia said. “Nobody who knows us tries to run on Bailey. I think one or two all year and she threw those kids out.
“She’s got a cannon back there.”
McHugh reached across her body for a shoulder-high, backhand snag of Henderson’s hardest-hit ball, a line drive by Abbonizio to end the first inning.
For all those efforts, however, it is the hitting that stood out.
After being held to five runs in its previous four games – and winning a pair of 1-0 decisions – Pittston Area has used the district championship game and the state tournament opener to produce consecutive double-figure scoring efforts.
The Lady Patriots packed 10 runs into the third-through-fifth innings. In one 15-batter stretch of the third and fourth innings, they were 10-for-14 with a walk.
Five straight singles, beginning with the top of the order, got it started with one out.
“Once someone gets a hit, we just keep hitting,” said McHugh, who was positioned right in the middle of that streak. “It’s kind of like a spark plug.”
After Antal put Pittston Area ahead to stay, Mesaris doubled off the left-field fence with two outs for two runs.
Antal sent her homer over the fence in a similar spot for three runs in the fourth and Felinski later sent the ball to the fence again for her RBI double in the fifth.
The home run came after Antal fouled off three straight two-strike pitches.
“I felt that I was going to hit one,” she said. “After hitting all those foul balls, I just knew it was coming.”
Pittston Area advances to play the winner of District 1 champion Bishop Shanahan and District 3 third-place finisher Solanco on Thursday. Their game Monday was postponed because of rain and moved to Tuesday.
PIAA CLASS 5A FIRST ROUND
Pittston Area 10, West Chester Henderson 2
2B – Mesaris, Felinski, McHugh. HR – Antal.