Donegal shuts out Central in PIAA State qualifier
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
The last time Manheim Central and Donegal played on the softball field, the Section Three crown was at stake.
The Lady Indians took that game 12-0.
Last Thursday, the two rivals met for a fourth time this year with much higher stakes.
A trip to the PIAA State Triple-A playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Central girls, they were unable to get some timely hits and Donegal broke open a 1-0 with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, leading them to a 4-0 win at Lebanon Valley College.
The victory clinched District Three’s final PIAA berth for the Lady Indians (21-4). It was also Donegal’s third win over Manheim Central (19-7) in four games this season.
"I was pretty confident," Manheim Central skipper Steve Ginder said. "They seemed to really be focused and I thought we were going to do it. We just couldn’t get the hits when we needed them."
Donegal pitcher Sophie Leaman struck out just four, but she benefited from two double plays behind her by the Lady Indians’ defense.
"We had the bases loaded and the right people up to bat," Ginder said, "and just couldn’t get those little hits to drop when we wanted them."
Donegal’s Steph Gainer opened the scoring when she belted a solo home run off of Central pitcher Sara McKee in the third inning. McKee finished with five K’s and one walk, while scattering seven hits.
But the Lady Barons seemed ready to break through in the top of the sixth when Miranda Becker and Katelyn Grazan had back-to-back leadoff base hits. But Leaman wriggled out of trouble, getting Aerika High to bounce into a third-to-first double play.
"We had the right person up," Ginder said. "We just didn’t get the right results. I would take her any minute again in that situation. I don’t think she’s grounded into a double play her whole career."
Having survived that scare, Donegal added some insurance runs in the bottom of the inning. Gainer doubled to get things started, Maddie Emenheiser walked, and Katrina Martin delivered a two-run double to make it 3-0. Martin later scored on a passed ball to give Donegal a four-run advantage.
That turned out to be the final margin of victory for the Donegal girls.
"After that inning, we were a little bit deflated, I guess," Ginder said. "Donegal capitalized on that."
The Lady Barons have certainly done their share of capitalizing over the past three seasons, winning back-to-back District titles and making two straight appearances in the State semi-finals, advancing to the PIAA championship game in 2011.
With nine seniors graduating from this year’s squad, they will leave big shoes to fill.
"It’s been tremendous," Ginder said. "They certainly raised the expectation of Central softball … (I’ll remember) just the way that they always played hard up until the end."
The Central girls fell into the District Three Triple-A third place game after suffering a 6-5 loss to top-seeded Twin Valley last Wednesday, May 29 at Millersville University.
The Lady Barons had leads of 4-1 and 5-3 in the game, but couldn’t quite hang on. Twin Valley cleanup hitter Lisa Lawson hit a two-run homer to highlight a three-run rally for the Lady Raiders in the bottom of the fifth, giving them a lead they never lost.
"We played well," Central assistant Tim Proffitt said. "I’m really happy with how we played. (Twin Valley) came back, put one over the fence. They did what they had to do."
McKee threw well over 100 pitches on the afternoon, at least partially due to getting called for six illegal pitches. In the Lady Barons’ previous 24 games this season, Central’s senior pitcher was called for none.
"(The third-base umpire) was saying she was lifting her foot up off the rubber before she takes off," Proffitt, the Lady Barons’ pitching coach, said. "It’s no advantage whatsoever. (She’s) never been called on it the entire season and it just seemed to keep happening at the wrong moments. But that’s not what lost the game for us, obviously."
Indeed, it didn’t help MC’s cause that they left eight runners on base, including the bases loaded in the fifth and seventh innings.
"We had the bases loaded twice. I think that we could have scored more runs," McKee said. "(Twin Valley) is a good team. I give it to them for coming back and getting us."
Early on, the Lady Barons did capitalize on their chances, taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Katelyn Grazan singled and scored on Aerika High’s RBI double to left. Rachel Clippinger then flared a two-out RBI single to shallow left field off of Twin Valley pitcher Samantha Lichtner.
Twin Valley got one back in the bottom of the inning, as leadoff batter Laura Lawson worked one of McKee’s five walks and later scored on Lisa Lawson’s (2-for-4, 2 runs, 3 RBI’s) RBI single to left.
In the top of the third, though, the Central girls added to their lead. Leadoff batter Miranda Becker singled to left-center and High (3-for-3, walk, 2 runs) got a one-walk. Courtesy runner Maranda Moyer scored on a wild pitch and then High scored on Clippinger’s (2-for-4, 2 RBI’s) RBI single to deep shortstop to make it 4-1.
But three MC errors helped pave the way for two Twin Valley runs in the bottom of the inning. Laura Lawson singled and stole second base to start things, but then McKee retired the next two batters and appeared to be out of trouble when Lisa Lawson hit a pop up between the pitcher’s mound and second base. But the ball hit the ground when McKee and second baseman Em Burkhart collided, putting runners at the corners.
Emily Webster then stroked an RBI single to center field, and Lisa Lawson continued home when the ball got past MC’s outfielder, cutting the score to 4-3.
The Lady Barons added an insurance run in the top of the fifth, as Grazan beat out a bunt single and scored on Abi Weaver’s base hit to deep shortstop. They threatened for more, loading bases with one out, but Lichtner escaped the jam with two of her nine K’s. Overall, the sixth through ninth hitters in MC’s batting order finished a combined 0-for-14 with eight K’s off of Lichtner.
"We just (needed) a couple timely hits," Proffitt said. "We had the bases loaded several times. That breaks the game open real quick."
Unable to break the game open, the Lady Barons were victimized in the bottom of the fifth. Twin Valley’s Brook Warren led off with a single to shallow right and then Lisa Lawson slugged a 2-1 pitch from McKee over the left field wall to pull the Lady Raiders even.
"It was a screwball," McKee said. "She knows how to hit inside, we were told that. It’s just that I didn’t come in on her hands enough."
Webster and Mackenzie then worked back-to-back walks, advanced into scoring position on an illegal pitch, and Webster scored the go-ahead run on Kara Duriez’s RBI ground out to right fielder Weaver, making it 6-5.
McKee then held the Lady Raiders scoreless in the sixth, giving the Central girls an opportunity in their final at-bat.
"I did get frustrated today (getting called for the illegal pitches)," McKee said, "(but) in the sixth inning, I came back and I felt like I did really good. I just relaxed a lot, but it was too late."
Central made things interesting in the top of the seventh, as High singled to right with one out, Weaver had a base hit to right-center and Clippinger and Courtney Hoffer had back-to-back fielder’s choices, leaving the bases loaded with two outs. But Lichtner ended it with a strikeout.
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