SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP. — As a freshman, Tiana Treon wasn’t tormented by last year’s heartbreaking state semifinal loss that kept Hazleton Area from reaching a state softball title game.
And as the Cougars’ starting third baseman, she wasn’t especially worried about watching opposing runners pass her on their way to crossing home plate.
“We’re a very confident team,” Treon said. “Once we get up, we don’t go down again from there.”
She was right.
Treon delivered a go-ahead, two-run single in the second inning, Marissa Trivelpiece was a marvel at shortstop, and Hazleton Area exorcised a quarter century’s worth of demons Monday by rallying from an early four-run deficit to smack Spring-Ford 8-5 in a PIAA Class 6A softball semifinal at Parkland High School.
The Cougars, now 22-3 and on a 10-game winning streak, emerged with their first state semifinal win in four tries during the school’s 25-year history — including last season’s gut-wrenching, last-inning 4-2 loss to Avon Grove in a PIAA Class 4A semifinal.
That bitter memory brought former team leader Mackenzie Yori, who played basketball as a freshman at Scranton this past season, out of the crowd to give Marissa Trivelpiece a big hug once the state final berth was secured.
But a few fresh faces playing their first high school varsity season provided the pop that sent the Cougars into Thursday’s 4 p.m. state title game against either Chambersburg or Hempfield Area at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.
“It’s amazing,” said freshman outfielder Kyra Antolic, who drove home one run and scored another, “especially for my first year playing softball. “It’s a great experience.”
For a bit, it appeared as if the Cougars were about to experience another state semifinal downer.
Spring-Ford’s Sam Lindsay singled home the game’s first run, and just when Cougars starter Erika Book seemed ready to limit the damage when Hazleton Area made two bases-loaded forceouts at the plate, a fly ball was dropped to bring home two more Rams runners with a 3-0 lead.
Then the Rams went up 4-0 in the second inning, when St. Joe’s-bound shortstop Megan Kern’s liner to the outfield eluded a glove for an RBI single.
“I think the nerves were getting to them,” Hazleton Area’s second-year coach Heather Natt said.
Time to worry?
Not for the Cougars.
They simply came back with a five-run outburst in the bottom of the fifth, and controlled the game from there.
Senior catcher Hope Kinney and freshman Marissa Trivelpiece, Megan’s sister, started the rally by lashing infield singles and book drew a walk to fill the bases.
Then Antolick, the daughter of former Hazleton High School basketball and baseball star Jeff Antolick — an ex-New York Yankees minor leaguer — dropped a single into center field for Hazleton Area’s first run.
“I was a little nervous,” Antolick admitted, “but I knew in my heart we’d come back. I wasn’t really trying to place it, I was trying to hit the ball hard.”
The Cougars kept hitting from there.
Taylor Kaschak drove a sacrifice fly to deep left field, and Hazleton Area closed within a run when Megan Trivelpiece drew a bases-loaded walk to score Book.
Treon followed by punching a two-run single over third base, giving the Cougars a 5-4 lead they never relinquished.
“It was very exciting,” Treon said. “As long as I made contact, it was fine. Actually, I was a little nervous. But we came back and just won. As soon as we scored five runs, I knew we had it in the bag.”
It didn’t hurt for Hazleton Area to keep building a path to the state final, though.
After the Cougars stranded the bases loaded in the third inning, Book delivered another run when she singled home courtesy runner Caitlyn Braskey in the fourth.
Then Antolick crushed a triple to deep left field to start the fifth, triggering two more runs for the Cougars. Taylor Kost singled home Antolick, and later scored Hazleton Area’s final run on an error.
“I thought I got it all,” Antolick laughed. “When I got up to bat (after the second inning), I was relaxed and just hit the ball.”
With the pressure off, Book gained strength in the circle. She pitched perfect innings in the third and seventh, and surrendered just three of Spring-Ford’s eight hits after the second.
Marissa Trivelpiece kept eating up grounders at shortstop, assisting on all three outs in the fifth inning and a fourth straight out to start the sixth. She also squeezed an infield pop to secure the game’s final out, and a trip to Penn State for the Cougars.
“Super exciting,” Natt said. “I’m blessed with such talent and a great group of girls. After we scored five, I think the turning point of the game was the top of the third inning, with us coming out and shutting them down.
“We took the steering wheel and cruised.”
PIAA Class 6A Semifinal
Hazleton Area 8, Spring-Ford 5
Della Guardia 1b`4`1`0`0
Me. Trivelpiece 1b`3`1`1`1
Ma. Trivelpiece ss`4`1`1`0
2B — Maziorz. 3B — Antolick.