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Lady Barons advance to District semi-finals
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
Abi Weaver doesn’t care where she hits in the Manheim Central softball team’s lineup.
The Lady Barons’ senior is just happy to contribute any way she can.
"Wherever (coach Steve Ginder) needs to put me, I’ll hit there," Weaver said.
Last Thursday, that meant hitting out of the clean-up spot for the Central girls.
For the first time in her varsity career.
All Weaver did was go 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBI’s in support of the shutout pitching of Sara McKee, as the 5th-seeded Lady Barons knocked off defending State Triple-A champion Big Spring 9-0 in the District Three Triple-A playoff quarterfinals at Messiah College in Grantham.
"I was kinda worried because (Big Spring) beat L-S (6-2 in the opening round), and L-S has beat us (during the regular season)," Manheim Central senior shortstop Aerika High said, "so I wasn’t really sure what to think of it. But we just tried to come out here and give it our all."
With the victory, the two-time reigning District champion Lady Barons (19-5) punched their ticket to the semi-finals against top-seeded Twin Valley (23-1), a 1-0 winner over 9th-seeded Northern York (14-7) in the quarter-finals. That game was originally slated for Tuesday, but was postponed due to rain and rescheduled for Wednesday after deadline. With the top three teams from District Three advancing to States, the Central girls were also guaranteed of at least two more games.
"I’m so excited," Weaver said. "It’s just a crazy ride, even if you’ve been there before. It’s our senior year, and to not go would be devastating at this point."
"We just want to get to States and that gives us a chance to do it," High remarked. "That’s really what we want to do. We care about the District title, but we just want to get back to States."
Miranda Becker did her part last Thursday, going 2-for-3 with a double. The Lady Barons’ senior leadoff hitter also worked a first-inning walk, and courtesy runner Maranda Moyer moved to third after Katelyn Grazan reached on a Big Spring throwing error, then scored on Kelsey Kann’s wild pitch.
Becker also started a third-inning rally and High (2-for-4) followed with a one-out RBI double.
"(The pitch) was right down the middle," High said. "There was no decision of whether to swing or not. It was there so I swung."
Meanwhile, although McKee struggled with her command in the early going, issuing all three of her walks in the first two innings, the Messiah College recruit was able to protect the early lead. She pitched out of two-on, two-out jams in both the first and second.
"Sara was really nervous in the beginning," High said. "Her (Messiah College) coach was here watching her, so she was really nervous and I think that was just it."
Central added to the Lady Bulldogs’ nervousness in the fifth, as Weaver slammed an RBI triple to the fence in right-center, driving in Grazan, who walked, and extending the Lady Barons’ lead to 3-0.
"I just watched it come the whole way in and it just felt awesome," said Weaver, who also batted clean-up for the JV team in her freshman and sophomore seasons. "Then as I was running to first base, I saw how far it was going and I was like, ‘Oh my word, it’s going over the fence, it’s going over the fence.’ It hit the top of the fence and came back in, but it was still awesome because I got a triple."
Leading 3-0, the Lady Barons’ broke it open in the bottom of the sixth, sending 10 batters to the plate off of Kann and reliever Kelsi Minich. McKee helped her own cause with a two-run triple and scored on Becker’s single to left. High’s RBI double to left plated courtesy runner Autumn Eldeen, and Weaver’s first-pitch two-run single chased Kann and put Manheim Central in front 9-0.
"(The girls in the dugout) were like, ‘Alright, the hits are contagious now,’" Weaver said. "I think we just figured out their pitcher. We just got on her, and once one person started hitting, it just kept going."
Big Spring, though, never did figure out McKee, who retired 16 of the final 17 batters she faced. Britney Wagner’s one-out single in the sixth was the Lady Bulldogs’ only base runner after the second inning.
McKee, who recorded her 400th career strikeout in Central’s opening-round 7-0 win over Palmyra, struck out seven and scattered just two hits while extending her scoreless innings streak in the playoffs to 14.
"Sara is an amazing pitcher and such an integral part of our team," Weaver remarked. "She’s so consistent and she just got her 400th strikeout last game. That’s crazy. We have so much faith in her and I have so much confidence in her and her abilities."
More MC GIRLS, page B-10