Knights, Lady Dragons return to D10 finals

By JON SITLER

jsitler@timesobserver.com

“We’re right where we want to be,” Warren softball coach Mark Bupp said of the Dragons’ sixth straight District 10 championship game.

This group of seniors, including pitcher Alexa Bupp, has been to four straight, losing three in a row to Fort LeBoeuf, who they play again at noon Monday at Penn State Behrend.

“I don’t know if I can say anything that is going to make this group hungrier,” said Bupp. “It’s a very focused group that comes in and does their job as a group. They’ve stayed together and have done a good job focusing on what we’ve asked them to work on. Would it be great to bring one home? Absolutely… To work to get back there, it’s just a credit to the kids…”

The Dragons are 18-1 overall with 17 straight wins and defeated Fort LeBoeuf twice in the regular season – 11-2 and 6-4 – to win their third straight region championship. Warren beat Corry, 6-3, on Thursday in the semifinals. Fort LeBoeuf is 12-8 overall after an 11-3 win Thursday over Hickory.

“We expect them to be a very aggressive team with the bat,” said coach Bupp. “That’s what they’ve exhibited in the two games we’ve played them, and in the other games we’ve had a chance to watch… They’ve got some great athletes. We just have to be smart. We have to make them hit our pitch and be ready to back it up and do our job when they hit the ball.”

Bupp said good fundamental softball and putting pressure on the defense is how the Bison reached the state final a year ago. LeBoeuf’s Amanda Krolczyk and Warren’s Alexa Bupp battled to a 10-inning D10 final last year, but Krolczyk graduated.

“We saw the freshman (Madison Vorpagel) for the majority of the two games we’ve played,” said coach Bupp. “In the last couple games they’ve thrown the (Hannah) Cass girl; we just have to adapt to whoever is on the mound.”

Cass threw a complete game against Hickory in the semis. Jolene Young is one of their better players and one of the better players in District 10, and she started things off for LeBoeuf with an RBI double on Thursday against Hickory. The first baseman also had a two-run home run to start the scoring in the Bison’s 11-2 loss at Warren last month. Kelsey Kuzma is their leadoff hitter and catcher. She had four singles in last year’s D10 final.

Warren’s sophomore catcher is hitting over .600 with five home runs, leadoff hitter Kaitlin Ishman over .500 with 11 home runs, Alexa Bupp .400 with two homers and Meghan Loutzenhiser close to .500 with a team-leading 26 RBI. There are five hitters with at least 15 RBI and seven with at least 10 knocked in. Alexa Bupp allowed less than a half a run a game pitching in the regular season.

After losing to McDowell in the second game of the season, “the first thing we talked about in our meeting afterward was all of our goals were still in front of us,” said coach Bupp.

The same would go for Eisenhower’s baseball team, which improved to 8-7 overall on Thursday in a 5-0 District 10 Class A semifinal baseball playoff win over Rocky Grove. Sophomore Casey Vincent’s E.R.A. of 0.19 actually dropped to 0.16 with the shutout.

“This was exactly where we wanted to be,” said first-year Eisenhower coach Cody Vincent, Casey’s older brother, whose Knights play Union City at noon Monday at Slippery Rock University.

While Warren softball last won a District 10 championship in 2010, Eisenhower baseball has not won one since 2003, when Cody Vincent was a junior. In fact, the last time Eisenhower finished .500 or better was in 2004, Cody’s senior season.

This is Casey’s time, and for the rest of the Eisenhower Knights, which field seven seniors. The Knights are led in hitting by juniors Kyle Hunt and Logan Bellardo and the sophomore Vincent.

“For me, after seeing what we had coming back, and getting to the championship last year – and we were winning after five innings, I thought we had an even better shot this year with what we had coming back. We had five starters (from last year), and we have a bunch of playoff games under out belt.”

Casey Vincent is expected to start after Thursday’s complete-game shutout.

“Casey honestly hasn’t thrown that much,” said Cody. “I threw 70 innings when I was in high school; he’s thrown 42. With him not having thrown too many innings, I’m not too concerned about that.”

Eisenhower scored early on Thursday, and coach Vincent plans to stay aggressive against Union City (8-7), who he said settled down after a rough start in a 7-4 win over Lakeview in the other semifinal Thursday.

Drake Burgess, Clay Webster and Brody Mangel each drove in two runs for Union City, and Schuyler Hopson threw a complete game.

A key, said Vincent, is solid defense.

“Alan (Jackson) has been playing a good third base for us, and (Logan) Bellardo has come a long way defensively (at catcher),” said coach Vincent. “He and Casey have been working pretty well together this year.

“One thing I told the younger kids – with two freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors: I tell them to seize the moment,” said Vincent. “You never know when or if you’ll get there again. Do something that you’ll always be able to remember. Get that banner up at the school and you’ll always be remembered.”