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Central’s offense tames the Cougars in first round of States
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Miranda Becker acknowledged that she was feeling some pressure starting her first game at designated player for Manheim Central last Thursday in the District Three Double-A championship game.
That was ancient history on Monday afternoon.
Feeling a lot more relaxed in the leadoff role against Springfield Delco, the Lady Barons’ junior went a perfect 3-for-3 with three runs scored, an RBI and a walk.
Her teammates followed her lead, pounding out 13 total hits as Manheim Central won its 24th straight game and ousted the Lady Cougars with a 9-2 victory in a PIAA State Triple-A first-round playoff game at Lebanon Valley College.
"There’s a lot of pressure (hitting leadoff), but you can’t let it get to you," Becker said. "I think the first game I let it get to me a little bit. But now I know how to get it together."
Becker, though, had a lot of company in making it a long day for SD hurler Courtney Scarpato. Aerika High was 2-for-3 with four RBI’s, Rachel Clippinger finished 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI singles, and pitcher Sara McKee helped her cause with a 2-for-3 day at the plate, including a triple. Eight different players had at least one base hit for Manheim Central.
The Lady Barons jumped out to a 3-0 lead through three, weathered a fourth-inning rally by the Lady Cougars when SD cut its deficit to 3-2, and then pulled away with a four-run fifth inning.
"We’ve just been working really hard in practice and everyone’s been contributing," Clippinger said. "It’s really key to get up fast so you can just relax and have fun. It gives you a lot of confidence and you just want to keep pushing and getting more runs."
"We just got the hits to fall and they were swinging pretty nice," Ginder said.
Overall, their nine runs off of Scarpato equaled the number of runs they scored combined in four State playoff games last year on their run to the PIAA finals. Plus, all of those games were decided by two runs or less.
"Usually, a State game doesn’t happen like this," Clippinger said. "We were hitting really well and playing great together."
Credit Becker and Ali Morton for setting the early tone with back-to-back base hits to open the bottom of the first inning. Scarpato saw some light at the end of the tunnel after retiring the next two batters, but Clippinger stepped up with a clutch two-out RBI base hit to left field to make it 1-0.
"I felt like I was seeing the ball really well and she didn’t really have that much movement, so it was easier to track the ball and just hit it hard," Clippinger said.
Manheim Central continued to hit the ball hard in the third inning, none more so than McKee, who laced a 1-0 pitch to the left-center field gap for a leadoff triple.
"I haven’t hit one in awhile, so it definitely felt good," McKee smiled.
Courtesy runner Shelby Smith scored on Becker’s second hit of the day — an RBI single to left — and High later added a sac fly to push the advantage to 3-0.
Meanwhile, McKee was sailing along through the first three innings, working ahead of hitters and surrendering only a two-out first inning base hit by SD shortstop Lauren Scarpato (3-for-3). For the game, McKee threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 27 batters that she faced and finished with eight K’s.
"(The offensive support) was really nice," McKee said. It’s a whole team effort and I definitely couldn’t do it without them."
McKee ran into trouble in just one inning, when the Lady Cougars strung together three of their six hits off the MC junior hurler. Lauren Scarpato floated a one-out base hit to shallow left-center, cleanup hitter Melynda Link reached on a bunt single, and both runners advanced into scoring position when McKee was called for an illegal pitch.
Asked if she was surprised by the illegal pitch call, McKee said, "Yeah, kinda, because it hasn’t been called all season. This field isn’t all dirt and I think that’s what it was. Normally, I dig myself a little hole (in front of the pitching rubber) and there wasn’t much of a hole that I could dig into, but it happens. I was just being more conscious of my foot and trying not to lift it up and I guess I fixed it."
Alexa Naughman’s RBI single to left got SD on the board and then Alyssa Abbonizio added an RBI ground out to make it 3-2, but that’s all they could muster.
"It was just that one time (that SD rallied) and I’m glad it wasn’t a big inning," Ginder said.
Springfield Delco wasn’t as fortunate in the bottom of the fifth, as Central used a big inning to break it open, 7-2. Becker again got things started with an opposite field single to right-center, and she advanced to second on Morton’s ground out to second base.
"I just wanted to make contact and get on base," Becker said.
High followed by smashing a hard-hit RBI single to left and then raced to third on a two-base error. The Lady Barons then poured it on with two outs as Clippinger delivered an RBI single to left, Abi Weaver added a slump-busting RBI triple to left-center and Brittiny Griffith drove in the fourth and final run of the inning with a single to left.
The Lady Barons tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth with High ripping a two-run triple to center field to plate courtesy runners Smith and Emily Kraybill to stretch the cushion to 9-2.
With that, it was one win down and three to go in the State playoffs for Manheim Central.
Now, the Lady Barons are just hoping that Monday’s offensive onslaught is a good omen as they move forward.
"We’ve been here last year," Clippinger said, "and we’re going to keep pushing through to the end this year." More STATES, page B-4