Semi-final shutout Reigning L-L champion Lady Barons advance to League finals
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
The game was basically decided.
The only question was whether Manheim Central pitcher Sara McKee would finish with a shutout.
Shortstop Aerika High made sure she did.
With a Manheim Township runner on third base and two outs in the top of the seventh inning, the Lady Barons’ senior star dove to field a ground ball up the middle and threw out the Blue Streaks’ Alyssa Perkins, putting an exclamation point on Manheim Central’s 6-0 win at Willow Street’s Garrett Field and punching their ticket to the Lancaster-Lebanon League championship game.
"I wanted it to be a shutout, so I thought I’d better dive out there for the ball," High said. "At first when I landed on the ground, I didn’t think I had it, and then I realized I had something in my hand. So I just stood up quickly and tried to find first and got her."
As a team, the Section Three runner-up Lady Barons (17-5) had to pick themselves up quickly after starting the league season with just a 2-2 record. The reigning L-L League champions have gone 14-3 since that time while earning the opportunity to defend their title against Hempfield, a 4-1 winner over Donegal in Tuesday’s other semi-final. The L-L finals were held last night (Wednesday) after deadline.
"We had a rough start, so just getting there means a lot to us," High said, "because at first, we didn’t think we were going to make it anywhere. Just doing this has really boosted our confidence in the team."
"This group of girls is really awesome to be with and they’re fun," senior catcher Miranda Becker said, "so I just don’t want the season to end."
They certainly got a confidence boost against Township starting pitcher Lacy Smith by scoring three runs on two hits and a Blue Streak error in the bottom of the second. With one out, Courtney Hoffer reached on a throwing miscue, advanced on a wild pitch and Abby Hahn’s sacrifice and then scored the game’s first run on Juliana Sheaffer’s RBI single to right field. After Abi Weaver walked, Miranda Becker stroked an RBI single to left to drive in Sheaffer. Weaver also scored on the play as Becker drew a throw to second base.
Sheaffer and Weaver were a combined 2-for-3 at the bottom of Central’s batting order with three walks and four runs scored off of Smith, who gave up five total free passes and six hits on 98 pitches in five innings.
McKee, meanwhile, didn’t allow a Manheim Township base runner past second base through the first six frames, as she finished with nine K’s while tossing a three-hitter. Blue Streaks’ leadoff batter Reilly Gearhart had two of Township’s three hits off of McKee.
"(Sara’s) screwballs and rises had good movement on them – (Township) kept swinging after them," Becker said. "She was on her game."
Just for good measure, the Lady Barons added three insurance runs in the fourth. Sheaffer singled to right, Weaver walked, both runners moved up on a wild pitch, and Becker (2-for-4, 2 RBI’s) hit a RBI grounder to short. In Central’s first two playoff games, Becker is 4-for-8 with a run and two RBI’s.
"I love hitting," Becker said. "Just got to make contact and do what I have to do."
Katelyn Grazan followed with a perfect bunt single, and High broke it open by connecting on a 1-1 pitch and delivering a two-run single to left field. High and Township pitcher Smith were teammates on their travel team, and the Central three-hole hitter expected pitches on the outer part of the plate. She was more than happy to get something she could handle.
"I knew she like to work outside and she knows I can’t hit outside, so I figured she might throw me a couple of them," High said, "but she was going inside. I guess she just wasn’t hitting her spots today."
McKee, who finished with 104 pitches, protected the lead by retiring seven straight batters until Marcy Thorsen led off the seventh with a single to left. She became the Blue Streaks’ first runner to third base after a sac by Jessie Bogner, but she was stranded there thanks to High’s fine defensive play.
Last Saturday, McKee struck out 11 while tossing a two-hitter and Becker, Grazan, Courtney Hoffer and Weaver had two hits apiece in the Lady Barons’ 6-1 win over Section Two champion Conestoga Valley.
Central took an early 2-0 lead on Rachel Clippinger’s RBI single in the first and Weaver’s run-scoring base hit to right field in the top of the second.
McKee, meanwhile, recorded six of her 11 K’s in the first three frames and allowed just two base runners in the first five innings.
"My change-up hasn’t been on, but it kinda came back toward the end of the game, so that was good," McKee said. "But my screwball, my curveball … everything was on."
They added an unearned run off of CV pitcher Nicole Allen in the fourth, and then High’s RBI single past shortstop five pushed the Lady Barons’ lead to 4-0.
The Bucks got one back in the sixth as Allen helped her own cause with an RBI double to the left-center field gap.
But Hoffer stroked a two-run single to center field in the seventh and that was the game.
For the Central girls, it was a welcome result after suffering a lopsided 12-0 five-inning loss to Donegal last Wednesday, May 8 in a one-game playoff for the Section Three title.
"It was really important for us to put (that loss) behind us right after it happened," McKee said, "because we can’t let that get to us. It was important to defend our Section title, but it wasn’t like a season-blowing game."
More SHUTOUT, page B-10