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Magical run ends with heartbreaker
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
It might have been fitting that Alexa Campbell’s thoughts last Friday turned to a key game in early May against Donegal.
Playing their L-L rival in a late-season match-up, Manheim Central scored four runs in the seventh inning on its way to a 5-4 victory.
That was one of the Lady Barons’ headline wins during a streak in which they went 22-1. It also marked one of nine times this season that Central won in its final at-bats.
So when Valley scored three unearned runs with two outs in the bottom of the fourth in the PIAA State Triple-A championship game, the MC girls’ ace pitcher remained optimistic.
"I never lost hope because I knew that earlier in the season, we had been down four runs in the seventh and I knew that we could do it," Campbell said. "I just knew that it would be a little harder."
Unfortunately for the Lady Barons, there would be no 10th magical rally this time, as the Lady Vikings held on for a 3-1 victory to claim the State title at Penn State University’s Nittany Lion Softball Park in State College.
"It was a great ride … It was just one of those that didn’t go our way," said Manheim Central boss Steve Ginder, whose squad finished 26-5.
Certainly, the Central girls had more go their way than not during their long winning streak, as they barreled to the Section Three crown, the L-L League finals and their first-ever District Three Triple-A championship.
Although nobody expected the Lady Barons to be playing for State gold when they were 4-3 after seven games in April, it didn’t make Friday’s loss any easier to accept.
"A loss is still tough to take in the final game," Ginder remarked.
Valley was feeling similar emotions just a year earlier after falling in the PIAA State Double-A quarterfinals. But the Lady Vikings (18-2) used that loss as motivation and put together a run that culminated with coach Carol Perroz getting an ice water shower in front of the third base dugout.
"If they can promise me that every year by getting these results, I’ll take it colder," Perroz smiled. "I’m livin’ the dream right now, baby."
Senior Samantha Ginder was living the dream when she crushed a two-out 3-2 pitch from Allegheny College-bound pitcher Caitlin Nealer to the right-center field gap for a first-inning triple.
"I didn’t look at the ball at all (while running) — I was just watching (her father, third-base coach Steve Ginder)," said Samantha, an F&M College recruit. "I was like, ‘Really? Third?’ I had to trust him."
But Nealer, who had 13 K’s in a 1-0 no-hitter over Bellefonte in the State semifinals, escaped the jam with a strikeout to keep it scoreless.
"(Nealer) did a fine job and hit her spots," coach Ginder said. "We just didn’t hit the ball as hard as we could have and that was the difference. (But) she had some nice (velocity)."
The Lady Barons, in fact, touched Nealer for only two hits in the game, and the Lady Vikings’ senior retired 14 straight batters on the heels of Ginder’s triple. Overall, she finished with 10 K’s and just one walk while throwing an efficient 85 pitches.
"(Nealer) was pretty good and she mixed it up a bunch," Campbell said. "She wasn’t just a one-place pitcher, so I think that kinda threw us off a little bit. We couldn’t quite get on her as we usually would."
Campbell, too, was on top of her game, yielding just one base hit through the first three innings — a two-out single by Valley senior leadoff batter Allison Rayburn in the bottom of the third. Mixing her speeds and hitting her spots, the IUP recruit struck out six, walked just one and scattered six hits on 99 pitches.
"This (Manheim Central) team didn’t get to the State finals because they didn’t have somebody that was going to be able to handle it on the mound," Perroz remarked. "She was handling it. She came in, she was aggressive … she’s their leader. They’re a young squad so they have to look to her, and she did a very nice job."
Campbell was still doing a very nice job in the fourth inning, when she retired Valley’s first two batters on just two pitches. Then the Lady Barons appeared to be out of the inning when Katrina George bounced a ground ball to shortstop Ginder. But the throw to first base was a little low and Abby Hahn was unable to squeeze it, as George reached base.
After five-hole hitter Angelina Masters worked a 2-2 count, Campbell’s next pitch was borderline, but the call didn’t go her way.
"It was right down the middle, probably more than I wanted to throw it," Campbell said. "But (the umpire) didn’t call it, so that’s what happens."
One pitch later, Masters singled to left field to put two runners on base.
That set the table for junior first baseman Carly Bonk, who slugged a 1-2 pitch from Campbell for a double to the left-center field gap, driving in the game’s first two runs.
"I saw the changeup the first time she got me and I knew I wasn’t swinging at any more of those," Bonk said. "… We never give up regardless of how many outs there are in the inning. There were two girls in front of me that did an awesome job to get on base, so I knew it was my turn to push those girls in."
Senior Amanda Mascara’s turn followed and she pushed in Bonk with an RBI triple to left-center to make it 3-0. Eventually, Campbell ended the inning by striking out Lindsay Nicastro, whose RBI single was the difference in Valley’s 1-0 semi-final win.
"They knew how to make contact on different kinds of pitches, as a good team would," Campbell said. "But I just wanted to get out of the inning and start hitting the ball. I thought we could use that as a (spark) to get our hits going."
The Lady Barons did create some momentum in the top of the sixth inning when Katelyn Grazan earned a one-out walk. The Manheim Central sophomore moved to second on Campbell’s ground out and then scored when junior Ali Morton slapped an opposite-field base hit to left field, cutting Valley’s lead to 3-1. Morton advanced to second on the throw home, but was stranded there when Nealer retired Ginder on strikes.
Still, for a Manheim Central team that had earned three walk-off wins in its first three State playoff games, the two-run deficit didn’t seem insurmountable. But Nealer struck out Rachel Clippinger swinging, coaxed a ground out to second from Katie VanBlargan, and then got Aerika High on strikes to clinch it.
"That’s a tough (loss)," Steve Ginder said. "That’s softball. We got beat. But I’m very proud of them. It’s been a great ride."
Manheim Central’s two starting seniors, Campbell and Sam Ginder, echoed those sentiments.
"I’m trying to just be happy and be proud of us for getting here and not think about the loss, even though I feel like there were some things that we could’ve done better," Ginder said. "It was a lot of fun winning the games that it took to get here."
Campbell added, "We have become so close. We really have become a family. I’m really proud of our team. We’ve come so far and made so many improvements and all matured so much as athletes. I’m just proud of my team." More STATE FINALS, page B-6