Lady Barons leading 3-1 in suspended game Trip to District finals hangs in the balance
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Nine outs were all that separated the Manheim Central softball team from punching its ticket back to the District Three Triple-A finals on Tuesday.
But then Mother Nature interfered with the defending District champions.
With the 3rd-seeded Lady Barons (19-3) leading 3-1 against 2nd-seeded Northern York after four and a half innings in the District semi-finals at Memorial Park in York, the game was halted initially due to lightning, and then suspended because of rain.
The game was slated to be completed yesterday (Wednesday) after deadline with the Lady Polar Bears (19-3) preparing to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The winner of that semi-final battle will meet the Big Spring vs. Greencastle-Antrim winner in the District Three Triple-A championship game on Thursday. Greencastle-Antrim was leading 1-0 in the first when play was halted.
The Central girls took a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning behind junior pitcher Sara McKee, scoring all three runs without a hit. Miranda Becker and Ali Morton set the table with back-to-back leadoff walks off of Northern York pitcher Shanon Ward, and both runners advanced on Aerika High’s deep fly to left field.
The next batter, Katie VanBlargan, bunted for a safety squeeze on an 0-1 count. Ward fielded the ball, faked a throw to first base and then caught Becker in a rundown. The ball went from Ward to catcher Kendyl Morse to third baseman Sam Miller and back to Ward. But when Ward threw the ball past third, both Becker and Morton scored to put the Lady Barons up 2-0. Meanwhile, VanBlargan advanced to third on the play, and courtesy runner Shelby Smith scored on Rachel Clippinger’s RBI ground out to third.
The Polar Bears got on the board with an unearned run in the bottom of the third to cut Central’s lead to 3-1. With one out, leadoff batter Evie Rentzel singled and then Carissa Martin reached on an MC throwing error, putting runners at second and third. Rentzel scored on Haley Thomas’ ground out, but then McKee prevented further damage by getting cleanup hitter Sam Miller on strikes.
McKee scattered four hits through four innings, while striking out six with no walks.
The Lady Barons advanced to the District semi-finals thanks a thrilling 2-1 win over L-L League rival Donegal last Thursday at Lebanon Valley College.
When Erika Campbell grounded out to end the bottom of the sixth inning for Manheim Central last Thursday, on-deck batter Brittiny Griffith was focused on one thing.
And she remained that way while taking her position in left field for the top of the seventh.
"I just knew I needed a big hit," the Lady Barons’ senior said. "That’s what I was thinking about the whole time."
It took her just one pitch in the bottom of the seventh to deliver. With the Central girls locked in a 1-1 tie against Donegal, Griffith turned on a pitch from Lady Indians’ hurler Sophie Leaman and crushed a walk-off blast over the left field fence to lift the Lady Barons to the victory.
"I went up to the plate and I was like, ‘Concentrate, just watch it and hit it,’ and I did and when I watched it, I was like, ‘No way, no way,’" Griffith recalled. "And I just sprinted around the bases crying."
Griffith’s third home run of the post-season not only got the reigning District Three Triple-A champions back into the semi-finals, it also provided the Lady Barons with a little icing on the cake.
"Donegal is such a rival with us and we’re so neck and neck all the time," Griffith said, "and just to hit it and get them out (of the playoffs) … It feels great."
It also had to feel great for MC junior hurler Sara McKee to emerge as the victor in a pitcher’s duel with Leaman. While Leaman scattered seven hits, with five K’s and no walks, McKee was even better as she allowed only three base knocks in addition to whiffing 10 and walking one.
"(Sara) didn’t get rattled, just stayed confident, came with her pitches that she had and really did well," Manheim Central skipper Steve Ginder said.
McKee allowed just one hit through the first three frames while capitalizing on a nasty changeup to record six of her 10 K’s. She struck out the side in the third inning around a one-out walk to Lindsey Mackley.
"We threw a lot of changeups in the beginning and then toward the end, we didn’t throw as many because (Donegal) was getting on them," McKee said. "I think we were trying to get them off-balance (early) and then we were just alternating back and forth between inside and outside."
Meanwhile, the Lady Barons took a 1-0 lead off of Leaman in the bottom of the second inning with three hits. Catcher Katie VanBlargan led off by flaring a base hit to right field and then courtesy runner Shelby Smith advanced to second on Rachel Clippinger’s ground out. Campbell followed with a base hit to left, putting runners at the corners, and then Griffith’s comebacker pushed Campbell into scoring position. In the number eight spot, Katelyn Grazan fell into an 0-2 hole against Leaman, then stepped out of the batter’s box and got the bunt sign from Ginder. The Lady Barons’ junior center fielder delivered on the next pitch, with Smith beating the throw to the plate to put MC on top.
"(Katelyn) hasn’t been driving it out of the infield lately, and I figured (Donegal) is playing back, let’s see what happens," Ginder said.
"I was actually real surprised (to get the bunt sign)," Grazan said. "I was like, ‘OK, I guess I’ve got to do this. There’s two strikes, so I have to get something down there.’"
Donegal answered in the top of the fourth with two of their three hits off of McKee. With one out, cleanup hitter Madi Emenheiser singled off the glove of Central third baseman Abigail Hahn, stole second base, advanced to third when MC shortstop Aerika High ranged deep in the hole to retire Erin Tirko and scored on Brooke Swarr’s RBI single to center.
But Swarr would be the Lady Indians’ final base runner off of McKee, who set down the final 10 batters she faced in order. In fact, McKee went to a three-ball count against just one batter in the final 3 1/3 innings.
Leaman, meanwhile, pitched a perfect sixth inning, but Griffith was ready for her opportunity in the bottom of the seventh and she didn’t waste it.
"I was swinging home run," Griffith laughed. "I wanted it." More LADY BARONS, page B-6