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Valley View spoils Lady Barons’ dreams MC girls fall one win short of returning to PIAA finals
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org, Staff Writer
Valley View’s E.J. Weston reached into his bag of Yogi-isms to describe this one.
"It’s almost deja vu all over again in reverse," the Lady Cougars’ skipper said.
Indeed it was.
One year ago, Manheim Central knocked off Valley View 1-0 in the PIAA State softball semi-finals when Lady Cougars’ shortstop Liz Aniska was unable to cleanly catch Alexa Campbell’s pop fly to shallow left in the bottom of the sixth inning, allowing Megan Ebersole to score the game’s only run.
Fast forward to Monday night, and those same two teams were back between the white lines at Allentown’s Patriots Park battling again for a berth in the State finals. This time, it was Valley View left fielder Gina Coccetti who lofted a pop fly into no-man’s land in shallow right center field in the bottom of the sixth, and when MC second baseman Erika Campbell couldn’t quite put away a difficult back-handed catch, courtesy runner Kelly Mecca scored on the base hit and the Lady Cougars survived for a 1-0 victory in the State Triple-A playoff semi-finals, snapping the Lady Barons’ 25-game winning streak.
"Carbon copy of last year," Manheim Central coach Steve Ginder said. "It was."
"It’s exactly what happened last year to us," Lady Barons’ pitcher Sara McKee said. "It was on our side last year and this time it was on theirs."
"(Erika) did everything she could," Katie VanBlargan remarked. "We had (the outfielders) back because we knew they could hit. It was just one of those plays that she tried, but it just didn’t fall our way. That’s the game of softball for you."
While Valley View (20-0) advanced to the PIAA State Triple-A finals, set for this Friday against District Three bronze-medalist Big Spring at Penn State University, Manheim Central finished an amazing run at 26-4.
But like any true champion, the two-time reigning District Three Triple-A gold medalist put up a fight in its final at-bat. With one out, McKee bounced a ground ball over the head of Valley View pitcher Gina Chieffallo to get things started.
"I like being in that position and I wasn’t nervous," McKee said. "I just wanted to get on. I honestly thought I was going to be out because I thought it went right to (Chieffallo)."
Leadoff batter Miranda Becker followed and singled over the head of third baseman Casey Pearce, and then both runners advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch. After Ali Morton popped out to Aniska at shortstop, Weston intentionally walked Aerika High to load the bases with two outs.
"No matter what inning it was, we were going to fight and I think we gave a lot of heart on that field," Manheim Central first baseman Rachel Clippinger (3-for-3) said.
That set the table for Katie VanBlargan.
"Earlier in the season, I had been practicing that situation with my dad because I know Aerika is a great hitter and everyone else knows that," VanBlargan said. "I’ve played the situation in my mind where we’re in States and we’re one run down and it comes down to me and I just didn’t pull through for them this time."
It wasn’t for lack of effort, however. She was aggressive from the moment she stepped into the batter’s box, fouling off a first-pitch strike from Chieffallo.
"Most of the pitches that she threw me when I was up to bat, the first pitch came right down the center every time," VanBlargan recalled. "I was figuring that she’d do the same this time and I was hoping that I could just crank one."
VanBlargan eventually worked the count to 1-2 and then hit a sinking fly to shallow left field. But Coccetti charged and the Lady Cougars’ sophomore made a game-ending basket catch just before the ball hit the ground while sliding to her knees.
"I thought it had a chance," Ginder said. "I thought it had a chance, sure. It looked like it might just do it."
"When the ball is hit, I’m thinking it’s a routine play," Weston said, "and then I’m realizing we had her playing deeper and the ball was dropping and as I’m watching it, my heart is in my throat, quite frankly, and she’s a sophomore and she made a heck of a sliding basket catch. That was the ball game there. We were fortunate. I believe we’re a good team and I believe they’re a good team."
Manheim Central actually outhit Valley View 8-3 in the game. Clippinger had the Lady Barons’ only extra-base hit, a second-inning leadoff double to left field, and then Katelyn Grazan worked a two-out walk. But Chieffallo, who finished with five K’s and two walks, escaped further trouble with a fielder’s choice grounder.
McKee, too, showed some guts. Unable to locate her screwball early on, Central’s junior hurler walked four, including Aniska leading off the bottom of the third. Pearce sacrificed and reached first base on an MC fielding error, allowing Aniska to scamper to third. But after Pearce stole second, putting two runners in scoring position with no outs, McKee coaxed a ground out to third baseman Abby Hahn, and then back-to-back pop outs to Campbell at second base to keep the game scoreless.
"I knew I had to get in my zone because my screwballs weren’t working at all," said McKee, who finished with four K’s. "With those runners on, we just all wanted to come in and score runs so I think that was the drive just to not let them score."
The Lady Barons, in fact, threatened in the fifth inning, as Abi Weaver and Morton stroked back-to-back two-out base hits, but Chieffallo again wriggled out of it. Then in the sixth inning, Clippinger singled to left, but was stranded.
"We had our opportunities and just didn’t capitalize," Ginder said.
"(Chieffallo) was just like any other pitcher we’ve faced, I thought," Clippinger said. "I think it was just the pressure of the game. I know that was getting to a lot of people where they wanted to come out with a home run or a triple, but you’ve got to go in there thinking, ‘Base hit and help out my team.’"
VanBlargan nearly did just that in the top of the seventh inning, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Asked if she thought the ball had a chance to drop when it left her bat, VanBlargan said, "I thought it would have, I wish it would have. But (Coccetti) made a great catch on it."
It took that great catch from Coccetti to keep Central from extending the game.
"Since freshman year, I’ve been playing with these girls and we just really work hard and it’s not the end for Manheim Central," Clippinger said. "We never go down without a fight. We’re going to give our hardest whatever inning it is and give 110 percent, and I love this team and they’ll forever be my family. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t make it to the State championship because we won League, Section, District and (placing) fourth in the State is not bad in my book and I’m proud of every one of the seniors."
That was also the message that Ginder delivered in their final post-game huddle.
"I just told them how proud I am of them this season," Ginder said. "They never gave up. They had a great, wonderful season." More LADY BARONS, page B-4