Few high school softball programs have enjoyed as much success as Chartiers-Houston. The Bucs have won eight WPIAL championships. In today’s “When Sports Were Played” we go back to C-H’s first title, which happened exactly 33 years ago today, May 27, 1987.
McKEES ROCKS – It seems only fitting that the game would be decided by one run and need extra innings to unfold.
After all, the Chartiers-Houston High School girls softball team had won each of its previous two games by one run, one of which lasted 11 innings. Down-to-the-wire games have become a way of life for the Bucs, and winning these games is what this team does very well.
With one swing of Paula Sculimbrene’s bat, Chartiers-Houston continued its string of hard-fought victories and carved its name in the WPIAL record books Wednesday afternoon. Sculimbrene lined Heather Young’s first pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning down the left-field line for a home run to give Chartiers-Houston a 4-3 victory over New Brighton in the WPIAL Class AA championship game at Robinson Township Park.
The WPIAL championship gives the Bucs a 21-0 record and is the first softball title won by a Washington County school.
“I can’t say enough about this team,” said Chartiers-Houston coach Dan Ross. “When I had the basketball team here with the Bazzoli sisters and were upset by Northgate in the playoffs, I thought I would never have athletes like that again. I thought I would never coach a team that would have the ability to get into a WPIAL championship game and have a shot at winning. But then along came this group of kids.
“These kids just work so hard in practice. And we’re not a team that relies on one person. We’re so balanced that everybody seems to be able to get the job done.”
Chartiers-Houston did get the job done as a team against New Brighton, but it was Sculimbrene and second baseman Erin Novak who gave the Bucs their biggest lifts.
In the top of the eighth inning, Sculimbrene made a lunging grab of a popup off the bat of New Brighton’s Tammy Doughwicz and turned it into a double play by catching a runner off first base. Novak, who hit an RBI triple in the first inning, killed a New Brighton uprising in the top of the ninth. With runners on first and second and one out, the Lions’ Renee Messick hit a ground ball to Novak, who stepped on second base and threw to first to complete an inning-ending double play.
The Bucs rode the momentum of the double play into the bottom of the ninth and Sculimbrene wasted no time in lining the home run past the outstretched arm of Lions left fielder Mary Beth Heaton.
“I was watching the ball as I was running to first base and saw the left fielder wasn’t going to catch it,” Sculimbrene said. “I thought I might be able to get a triple until I reached third and realized I had a chance for a home run.”
There was not play at the plate as Sculimbrene scored while the Lions were busy trying to get the ball back to the infield.
“I told Paula before she went to the plate that all we wanted was a hit,” Ross said. “It didn’t have to be pretty. If she got on base, then we were going to pinch-run for her.”
The home run was one of only four C-H hits. Novak’s triple in the first inning drove in Denise Svitek, who had singled, and gave the Bucs a 1-0 lead. The Bucs would get just one more hit – a single by Tricia Fabian in the fifth – until Sculimbrene’s home run.
New Brighton (16-5) tied the game in the second inning on a single by Missy Lagasik, a passed ball, a fielder’s choice, and a single by Heaton. The Lions then took a 2-1 lead when Heaton drew a walk in the fourth and scored on a two-out double by Jodi Wissner.
The Bucs rallied with two runs in the fifth without the benefit of a hit. Fabian walked and scored when Amy Yanchak’s grounder to third baseman Arline Konnelly was thrown away at first base. Yanchak advanced to second on the play and moved to third on a wild pitch.
Young then walked Rae Lynn Gostic, who ran to first base and immediately made an attempt to advance to second. The throw from catcher Shawna Liberty was in time to get Gostic but Yanchak raced home on the play to give the Bucs a 3-2 lead.
“Rae Lynn’s speed was a factor in the game,” Ross said. “We did a lot of that during the season, hoping that maybe in the playoffs it would get us a run.”
The Lions tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth on consecutive singles by Doughwicz and Heaton along with an error in the C-H outfield.
The loss ended what had been a storybook stretch drive for New Brighton, the runner-up from Section 17. The Lions had pulled off playoff upsets of top-seeded Sto-Rox and undefeated Western Beaver, along with a win over Bentworth.
“Like the old story goes, the clock struck 12 and Cinderella turned into a pumpkin,” said New Brighton coach Joe Ursida. “Nobody thought we would get here. We just couldn’t get the key hits today.”
New Brighton collected 12 hits off Fabian, who celebrated her 17th birthday by being the winning pitcher in a WPIAL championship game. The Lions, however, left a runner on base in every inning but the seventh, stranded 11 runners in all and had two runners thrown out at the plate.
“This was definitely my best birthday,” Fabian said. “I was putting the ball down the middle too much but the defense bailed me out a few times.”
“We made a lot of plays defensively that helped us,” Ross said. “We threw two runners out at the plate and turned two double plays. We made the plays.”