UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; June 13, 2024 – "You Can't Coach Heart."

Prior to and throughout the 2024 season, the Thomas Jefferson High School softball team has used one of long-time head and assistant coach John "Hoppy" Mitruski's steadfast beliefs and popular phrases as a point of focus and motivation. The beloved Mitruski passed away suddenly in May 2023 after serving as the Jaguars' head softball coach for 33 years, followed by seven more years assisting Heidi Karcher.

The high school serving the West Jefferson Hills School District, Thomas Jefferson demonstrated a massive amount of heart by completing an improbable post-season run Thursday, capturing the program's first PIAA 5A State Championship with a dramatic, eight-inning walk-off 2-1 victory over Pittston Area HS (21-2), the District 2 champion.

The Jaguars (16-8) entered post-season with a 9-7 record and as the No. 10 seed in the WPIAL Tournament, but advanced to the WPIAL title game. Thomas Jefferson then won four consecutive games (traveling more than 1,300 miles roundtrip) to become the first Girls team to win a PIAA state championship in the high school's 65-year history.

Thomas Jefferson won the heart-pounding thriller at Penn State's Nittany Lion Softball Park in extra-inning, walk-off fashion. Junior Morgan Alisesky led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a single and stole second base. Junior Alayna Grese was intentionally walked and both runners advanced a base on a wild pitch. Junior Alison Chalovich was intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs, setting the stage for Taylor Karpac. The senior ripped a single through the left side to score a leaping Alisesky as her teammates and coaches ran onto the field to mob Karpac.

"I was nervous because I hadn't done much in my at-bats," said Karpac, one of only two Jaguar seniors. "I knew I had to take advantage of the moment; and then I almost didn't run to first I was so excited! It's very exciting; at first our season was a little rocky (W-L record). We played for him (Hoppy) all season."

Karcher, who played softball at Penn State in the early 1990's, teaches chemistry and physics at TJ and has been the Jaguars' head softball coach since 2013. She led TJ to the 2014 WPIAL 3A title as the No. 13 seed.

"We just made BIG history; it's incredible!" Karcher exclaimed. "It hasn't sunk in yet. To come from being a 10 seed in the WPIALs to state champions is amazing. It's an awesome feeling. Female student-athletes are the bomb. Being a student-athlete is a true testament to dedication and teamwork.

"I can't even explain to you what it means to me (to win the title for Hoppy)," Karcher added. "He was my right hand man. Playing for him is what we've been doing all year."

The Jaguars took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, as junior Olivia Stock led off with a triple to deep left center. Two batters later, senior Zoe Krizan hit a sacrifice fly, bringing Stock home for a 1-0 TJ lead.

Pittston Area tied the game, 1-1, in the top of third.

TJ freshman pitcher Aubrey Shaffer was outstanding, striking out 10 batters, with four walks and allowing seven hits in a complete game performance. In the top of the eighth inning, the Patriots had runners on second and third base with two outs, but Shaffer delivered her 10th strikeout to keep the score 1-1. The Jaguars also got out of a second and third base jam in the top of the seventh inning when sophomore Addi Bracco made a nice running catch just beyond the third baseline to end the inning.

"This means everything," Shaffer said, clutching the PIAA trophy. "And to be the first TJ Girls team to win a state championship is amazing!"

"She's incredible," Karcher said of her freshman pitcher.

"It's amazing; we've been here for each other all year," stated Krizan, who has signed to play at Drexel University. "It's like a Cinderella story. This whole season we played for Hoppy."

Alisesky was 2-3 at the plate and scored the game-winning run and Karpac was 2-4 with the game-winning hit and RBI to lead the TJ offense. Stock delivered a triple and scored the Jaguars' first run. Grese, Chalovich and junior Hannah Alonso also had a hit for TJ against Pittston senior Gianna Adams, a two-time Pennsylvania 5A Pitcher of the Year.

The TJ softball team joins the school's football, hockey and boys soccer teams to capture PIAA or PIHL state championships, with the football squad's 2019 and 2020 crowns the most recent prior to the softball squad's incredible victory on Thursday.

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