PIAA Class 5A Softball: Younger Upper Dublin takes O’Hara to school

MARPLE TWP. — Upper Dublin’s Kaelin Penna can read the tea leaves in the Cardinals’ lineup. The senior starting shortstop is an outlier, leading off a batting order that consists of three freshmen and four sophomores.

The best days for that nucleus lie ahead, after Penna’s graduation. But while she’s there, she’s happy to enjoy the ride and impart whatever wisdom she can.

Penna provided the big blow of a six-run second inning in Monday’s PIAA Class 5A first-round game, a bases-clearing double that sent Upper Dublin toward a 13-1 win over Cardinal O’Hara for the program’s first PIAA tournament victory.

With that boost, turning a solid inning into a lopsided one, Penna gave the savvy youngsters around her room to do their thing as they have all year.

Upper Dublin’s Maddie Small singles to score her sister in the second inning as Upper Dublin defeated Cardinal O’Hara in the first round of PIAA Class 5A playoffs. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

“I think it’s really exciting because obviously we have a good team here and we’re a super young team,” Penna said. “So coming into this, we didn’t have high expectations. But it’s exciting to see how far we’ve gone, and I have faith that they’re going to do well the next couple of years after I’m gone.”

The youth movement abounds for the Cardinals (17-7). The second-inning outburst began with a triple from freshman Kaitlyn Small. Her twin sister Maddie Small drove her in with a single. Both corner outfielders accounted for two hits and two runs.

Fellow rookie Kyla Garrison was in charge in the circle. She allowed just one hit and struck out 11, helping her cause with a pair of singles.

All that youth meant O’Hara (7-7) was the more experienced states outfit. The District 12 champion had made the 5A tournament last spring, falling in the first round to Oxford. This year, that didn’t offer a solution to Garrison, but it did offer more poise as they approached states.

“We definitely saw what the teams were like,” sophomore pitcher Hayden Sissons said. “…I think it definitely opened our eyes to what states is about. I think we’re going to be ready for next year.”

Sissons provided O’Hara’s offense in the fourth. Avery Groh reached second on an error to lead off, after Garrison had retired the first nine batters. A groundout got Groh to third, and Sissons scored her with a solid single up the middle. It would end up as the Lions’ only hit and the only ball Harrison allowed to reach the outfield.

Sissons ran into bad luck to end the inning, UD first baseman Kaitlyn Zacharia fumbling a sinking liner in front of the bag at first. But it worked to the Cardinals’ advantage, Zacharia tagging out Madison Gibson and throwing to second to get Sissons, who had to hold on the liner and was caught between two minds once the ball hit the ground.

O’Hara had only one other runner reach base, a fifth-inning walk by Brigid MacGillivray. She reached second on a wild pitch, but Garrison struck out the last two hitters to strand her.

“She just has insane movement on her balls,” Penna said of her pitcher. “She always hits all of her spots. I think the main thing is she’s not in her head ever. She doesn’t let anything bother her. If she’s down, she walks someone, she doesn’t care. She just does the same thing.”

“She had great movement,” Sissons said. “She has a natural rise to her ball, and that is something I’m so jealous of. Especially inside, going right up, I chopped at it two times. She’s an amazing pitcher.”

Upper Dublin pitcher Kyla Garrison throws against Cardinal O’Hara in the first round of PIAA Class 5A playoffs Monday. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

After the rough second, Sissons settled in. She changed speeds effectively and worked around trouble in the fourth. She tried to stay away from the inside half of the plate on a team of righties adept at pulling the ball.

Four errors didn’t help, nor did a couple of extra bases gifted by bad lines to balls in the outfield or missed cutoff men. Upper Dublin, the fourth seed from District 1, piled up seeing-eye singles – the five runs in the second came with only two hard-hit balls, Lizzie Tambourino chopping a single over Sissons and through the hole over the bag at second for a two-run single.

“There’s always, in my head, I’m like, ‘oh I should’ve gotten that; I should’ve grabbed that,’” Sissons said. “But that happens and it happens to everyone.”

That opportunism would end Sissons’ day in the sixth. A walk and a fielder’s choice – where Sissons tried to get the runner straying off second instead of taking the out at first – put two on in the fifth. Nine-hitter Rayla Kratchman split the left-center gap with a double to score both, though Sissons fanned Penna to end the threat.

There was no such salvation in the sixth, the first five batters reaching. Fiore pushed a two-run single past a diving Groh at short, then the Smalls followed with hits, the 10th and 11th of the day off Sissons. Maddie Jones entered and allowed two inherited runners to score, getting the Cardinals over the 10-run threshold to end the game after six.

“We get on a lot of rolls,” Penna said. “Once we start hitting, we don’t stop. There’s some innings where we can’t get the bat on the ball, but once we start going, it’s good to get a bunch of runs in the inning. It gets up the energy and makes us want to keep going.”

The push to keep going applies for a team in uncharted territory. The Cardinals await the winner of Northern York and Hatboro-Horsham in Thursday’s quarterfinals. For however bright the Cardinals’ future is, Penna is hoping there’s a little more present to enjoy before it gets here.

“We’ve never been to states before, so this is a first for everyone,” Penna said. “It’s cool to see that we can hang with all these teams we’re playing and beat these teams.”

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