HYDE — In the Elite Eight for only the second time in school history, the Clearfield Lady Bison will be facing an Avonworth team with a near look-a-like lineup in their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at St. Francis College Thursday.
Coach Derek Danver has started one senior, two juniors, one sophomore and five freshmen in the Lady Bison’s impressive three-win, postseason run to the 2:30 p.m. duel of district champions at Red Flash Field.
The Antelopes, first-time District 7 titlists with a 21-2 record, will counter with two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
Pitcher Sarah Helffrich (8-2) and pitcher-center fielder Maya Kozup (9-0) are the seniors, and they have been hitting, both with power, No. 3 and No. 4 in the batting order, respectively.
The juniors, shortstop Dominique Raught and second baseman Natalie Marshall, set the table at the top of the lineup.
Those four and sophomore catcher Leah Logan, who bats fifth, combined for 14 hits and all 12 runs batted in when the Antelopes defeated Keystone Oaks 12-0 in five innings to claim that elusive first WPIAL championship.
Helffrich starred with a pair of run-scoring doubles and, a day after Avonworth’s 8-0 lead was put on hold because of the weather, a grand slam home run that made it a Mercy Rule win the went on her pitching log.
Logan had a two-run homer and Kozup contributed two RBI singles.
Barring changes from the starting nine against Keystone Oaks, sophomore Abby Stanley will be in right field with freshmen Emily Davis at first base, Meghan Fissore at third base and Cat Barie in left field.
The Antelopes opened the season with 13 consecutive wins, including four at the Cal Ripkin Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C., before losing 6-1 to Ellwood City. Their other loss was 11-7 to West Mifflin.
Two of their victories came at the expense of West Allegheny, which surprisingly came out of the No. 10 seed to grab the District 7 Class AAAA crown with a 13-6 record but also has advance to the second round of the state playoffs.
Avonworth won the WPIAL Class AAA Section 2 title at 9-1 and, as the No. 1 seed, beat Southmoreland 3-2 in nine innings and South Park 5-3 to reach the district finals.
On Monday, the Antelopes broke open a 2-1 game with six runs in the sixth inning to eliminate District 10 runner-up Fort LeBoeuf 8-1 with Helffrich pitching a four-hitter and going 4-for-4 at the plate.
With only one senior starter, Avonworth qualified for the state tournament last year as the District 7 third-place team, losing 9-3 to District 10 champion Hickory in the first round.
“Once you get to this point, all of the teams are good,” Danver said. “It depends on who shows up and plays the better game.
“Our team is coming together and gaining a lot of confidence. They’re ready to go after it.”
The Lady Bison finished the regular season 11-9 with the losses to five Mountain League teams, Glendale and Punxsutawney. All were in district playoffs, with ML co-champion Bald Eagle Area and Moshannon Valley League titlist Glendale (Class A) also advancing to Thursday’s state quarterfinals.
The Lady Bison have won seven of their last nine games, the last three 12-0 over Brookville in 4½ innings and 5-1 over Karns City in the District 9 Playoffs and 4-3 over Districts 5/6 runner-up Chestnut Ridge in their state tourney opener Monday.
Freshman pitcher Emma Hipps (12-8) has turned in three outstanding performances in the postseason and now has a 1.80 earned run average with a school-record 219 strikeouts in 136 innings.
She has completed 19 of her 21 starts.
Hipps also is the leading hitter at .444 with 18 RBIs, followed by two other freshmen, catcher Olivia Bender (.366, 17 RBIs) and first baseman Lauren Ressler (.347, 14 RBIs).
Center fielder Karly Rumsky (.282) will lead off with sophomore left fielder Morgan Cheek (.212, 11 RBIs) also batting ahead of Hipps, Bender and Ressler.
Junior shortstop Kyra Mollura (.228, 11 RBIs) will be sixth, followed by junior third baseman Casey English, freshman right fielder Alexis Benton and freshman second baseman Kylee Hertlein.
The winner will move on to Monday’s semifinals against either BEA (20-3) or Keystone Oaks (14-6), who are booked for a 5:30 game at Red Flash Field Thursday.
The District 6 champion Eagles advanced by defeating South Park 6-1 in the opening round, while Keystone Oaks upended District 10 champion Girard 8-0.