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Sixth-inning rally boosts Blazers past Warwick
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
The ball that Daniel Boone’s Mikaela Ballman hit to center field in the bottom of the sixth inning on Saturday was the type that will easily freeze an outfielder.
It was a low line drive that was tough to read off the bat.
Ultimately, Ballman’s shot climbed over the head of Warwick center fielder Cassidy Godber and went to the fence for a bases-clearing triple, erasing Warwick’s 2-0 lead.
That also turned out to be the key blow in helping the 11th-seeded Lady Blazers knock off 13th-seeded Warwick by a 4-2 score in the District Three Quad-A playoff quarterfinals at wind-swept Millersville University.
"From the scouting report we had, it looked like (Daniel Boone) didn’t have a ton of power, but there were a lot of pesky hitters, a lot of good hitters who get on base," Warwick coach Don Miller said. "But (Ballman)’s hitting cleanup for a reason. So we were a little worried about that. When she was up, we’d move our outfield back. She just hit the ball hard. She just had a good day."
While the Lady Warriors ended their season with a 13-9 overall record, Daniel Boone (18-6) advanced to Tuesday’s District semi-finals to face L-L Section One and League champion Hempfield (23-2).
Through five innings, however, it was the Warwick girls who were in the driver’s seat to earn a third match-up against the Lady Knights this season. Junior pitcher Tessa Eckman, who had pitched a complete-game shutout while helping Warwick upset 3rd-seeded Central York in the opening-round, struck out four, walked one and allowed just three hits going into the sixth while protecting a 2-0 lead.
She retired Daniel Boone in order in the second, third and fifth innings.
"(Tessa) hit her spots, her ball had movement on it, she mixed speeds, she mixed location and was just throwing a variety of pitches," Miller said. "That’s her bread and butter."
Eckman’s only walk of the contest came against Lady Blazers’ pinch-hitter Rachel Levens leading off the sixth in the number nine hole. Leadoff batter/pitcher Bekah Slattery followed with a single up the middle, and then after Eckman K’d Megan Piccirreta, Nicole Kovach reached when Warwick’s Madi Derr was unable to scoop up a spinning ground ball to shortstop, loading the bases.
That set the table for Ballman, who worked a 2-0 count against Eckman before smacking her three-run go-ahead triple to center field.
"She hit the ball well (in the game) and that one she struck really well," Miller said. "That was one of those where it was a 2-0 pitch, the bases are loaded and Tessa had to throw a strike. So she was sitting on it. You’ve got to give her credit for being able to hit it … Tessa doesn’t really give in. She still works the count as well as she can. But that one, (Ballman) just hit it really well."
Five-hole hitter Savannah Toth also hit the ball really well, driving in Ballman with an RBI single to give the Lady Blazers an insurance run.
That was all Slattery needed, as she finished with six strikeouts while allowing just two runs on three walks and five hits to pick up the win.
The Lady Warriors scored both of their runs off of Slattery in the top of the first inning. Derr led off with a double, Godber walked and Victoria Byler dropped a sacrifice bunt and reached on a botched coverage at first base, loading the bases for Nikole Rottkamp. Slattery’s wild pitch allowed Derr to cross the plate with the game’s first run, and Rottkamp earned a free pass to reload the bases.
One out later, August Mason’s wind-aided hit fell safely just out of the reach of shortstop Kovach, driving in Godber to push the advantage to 2-0.
Lacey Lefever then then stroked a line smash to Daniel Boone second baseman Maggie Koch, who snared the ball and then fired to first to double off Warwick’s base runner, who was off the bag.
"The double play hurt," Miller said. "If you have the bases loaded and one out and you hit into a double play, that’s a big momentum-changer for the other team. It’s just one of things that happens. We had some other opportunities as well."
Indeed. The Warwick girls had two runners on base in the third, but were unable to capitalize. In the fifth, Piccirretta robbed Ashley Royer on a nice catch in right-center, with Godber on base following an error, and Lefever was on third base with two outs in the sixth when Eckman’s hard-hit grounder was fielded by Slattery for an out.
Daniel Boone, meanwhile, got a runner as far as third base in the fourth inning when Kovach singled and advanced two bases on Ballman’s hard-hit single to right-center field. But Lefever’s solid play in the gap, allowing her to cut down Ballman trying to stretch her hit into a double, limited the damage.
"(Lacey) knocked the ball down, picked it up and made a really nice throw into second, and Madi caught it and tug (Ballman) out," Miller said. "If she was safe there, that’s second and third with one out … so Lacey made a nice play on that one."
Kovach was eventually stranded at third base, but unfortunately for the Lady Warriors, Daniel Boone was able to break through in the sixth inning and hold on for the win.
Still, Miller was pleased with how his players responded in the District playoffs following a regular season in which their eight-game reign as the Section One champion was snapped by Hempfield.
"It was an interesting season in that, I think as a team and I think as a person, we’d all say we didn’t accomplish what we thought we’d accomplish in league play," Miller said. "But when we got into Districts, I thought we played really good softball. I told them after the game, ‘I’m proud of the way they pulled it together there in Districts and played really good softball. I think they showed a lot of character with the way they finished the season in District play.’"
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