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Twice as nice for the MC girls Lady Barons repeat as District Three champs
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org, Staff Writer
Change-up on the outside corner.
That pitch ended Manheim Central’s 2-1 win over Donegal last June in the District Three Double-A softball finals.
Last Thursday, they went to the well again.
And got the same result.
Protecting a 3-2 lead over Greencastle-Antrim, MC junior hurler Sara McKee froze Blue Devils’ cleanup hitter Amanda Wink with a change-up on the black for a game-ending strikeout and the Central girls repeated as the District Three Double-A champions at Lebanon Valley College.
"Once (catcher Katie VanBlargan) showed the sign to me, I was like, ‘Alright, we got this,’" McKee said, "and it just worked."
These days, Manheim Central (24-3) has had a lot working for them. Their 23rd straight win delivered their third championship trophy of the season, to go along with the Section Three and Lancaster-Lebanon League crowns.
"It’s amazing," VanBlargan said of repeating, "especially because last year was the first time in our history we ever did it. To do it back-to-back is even better, and especially for my senior year. I couldn’t ask for anything better."
Overall, VanBlargan was one of four seniors in the starting lineup for Manheim Central last Thursday, joining right fielder Ali Morton, second baseman Erika Campbell and right fielder Brittiny Griffith.
Morton certainly did her part in the early innings against the Blue Devils (18-6) to make sure Manheim Central repeated, smashing a first-inning home run and then throwing out the potential tying run at the plate in the top of the third inning.
With one out in the bottom of the first inning and the score still tied 0-0, Morton worked a 2-2 count against Blue Devils’ pitcher Wink and then connected on the next pitch, hitting a long home run over the right field fence to give Manheim Central the early lead.
"It was more of an inside pitch that (Wink) gave me and I just turned on it and it flew," Morton said. "I’ve always wanted to play here since I was little, and just to hit one over the fence made another dream of mine come true."
It was Morton’s fourth round-tripper of the year, but her first since hitting two against L-S in Central’s eighth game of the season.
"It’s been awhile," she said. "I just started getting my batting back, so it’s great."
There was certainly nothing wrong with her arm in the bottom of the third. Number eight hitter Michaela Ensminger stroked a one-out single to right, Mackenzie Gayman sacrificed her to second and then leadoff batter Mary Ward (2-for-4) grounded a single to right. But Morton scooped up the ball and fired a strike to VanBlargan, who blocked the plate and tagged Ensminger for the third out.
"I felt like I had a shot … it looked like (Ensminger) paused for a minute (rounding third)," Morton said, "and I think that’s what gave me some time. It felt good."
"That was an amazing throw," VanBlargan said. "It was right where it needed to be — perfect one-hop right into my glove and tag kind of play. I wasn’t going to let her score. I was going to block her no matter what. And I just had to make sure I held onto the ball."
That was the second Blue Devils’ runner thrown out on the base paths, as MC center fielder Katelyn Grazan and shortstop Aerika High made a perfect relay to third baseman Abby Hahn to nail Casey Cordell trying to stretch a double into a triple in the top of the second inning.
But whereas G-A was struggling to capitalize on its opportunities, Central took advantage of a couple breaks in the bottom of the third. McKee led off and reached on a fielding error, Morton got on board when her bunt wasn’t fielded cleanly, both runners advanced on High’s groundout to first and courtesy runner Shelby Smith scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0.
"You capitalize on the other team’s mistakes — especially this late in the game, we’re all good, it doesn’t happen that often, and when it does, you need to capitalize off it," VanBlargan said.
The Blue Devils finally capitalized in the top of the fourth. Jenna Crunkleton led off by reaching base on Morton’s error in right field and Rachel Kline doubled to center, putting runners at second and third. Crunkleton scored on Wink’s sacrifice fly and then Kline crossed the plate when McKee’s throw on Casey German’s bunt got past first baseman Rachel Clippinger, tying the score 2-2.
After Cordell worked an 11-pitch walk, McKee got the second out on a pop up to short and then she appeared to be out of the inning after fielding Ensminger’s soft grounder between the mound and first base. But the inning lived on when Ensminger reached on McKee’s throwing error, loading the bases.
"That (fourth) inning, I don’t even want to talk about it," laughed McKee, who threw 34 of her 120 total pitches in that inning. "… I was so close to the bag and I should have just tug it myself. The ball just fell out of my hand and it was terrible. It happens, but we got through it, so that’s what counts."
Indeed they did, as McKee coaxed Gayman into an inning-ending pop out to High at shortstop and the game remained tied 2-all.
"We came in after that inning," VanBlargan said, "and (coach Steve) Ginder was like, ‘Alright, that was your chance to make mistakes. No more. You’re done.’ And we were like, ‘Alright, sounds good.’"
"Errors breed errors, for some reason," Ginder said. "But they settled back down and really turned the corner and came through."
They did so against a pitcher in Wink who entered the game with impressive numbers in the Blue Devils’ first three District games, recording 21 K’s in 28 innings while allowing just six hits and no earned runs. And in fact, she retired seven straight — and eight of nine — after Central had taken a 2-0 lead in the third. But then High led off the bottom of the sixth with a base hit to left-center and advanced on VanBlargan’s sacrifice.
"You definitely had to adjust because her rise ball was kinda difficult," High said of Wink, who struck out 10, walked none and scattered four hits. "When you saw it coming straight in, you thought it was going to be a strike, but it ended up going up high."
The next batter, Clippinger, hit a grounder to G-A third baseman Cordell, who threw high to Kline at first base. High, meanwhile, moved up, and when Kline was unable to hold onto the ball, the Manheim Central junior headed for home and scored to give the Lady Barons a lead they never lost, 3-2.
"I saw (Kline) drop it as I was rounding third and I knew that I could easily get in there, so I just ran," High said.
"(Aerika) is very smart and she knows to take off when she has a chance," Ginder said. "Some of them know that and do so … You have to be (opportunistic) in big games. You really have to."
McKee, meanwhile, scattered seven hits, but the Blue Devils had two of those in the top of the seventh. But with the potential tying run at second base, McKee got Wink looking for her eighth — and final — strikeout. It was also her fourth punch-out looking.
"Just a little (nail-biting), but I knew we could do it," McKee smiled.
More nail-biting will surely come their way this week as the PIAA State Tournament gets underway, but the Lady Barons are a confident bunch.
"We’re going to keep truckin’ along," VanBlargan said. More CHAMPS, page B-4