Softball playoffs bring highs and lows Warwick ousted from District playoffs with 5-2 loss to Wilson Manheim Central captures first L-L championship since 1989

By on May 23, 2012

By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer

Photo by Stan Hall
Manheim Central's softball players hoist the Lancaster-Lebanon League championship trophy skyward after defeating Conestoga Valley 2-1 in the finals last Thursday at Willow Street's Garrett Park. Brittiny Griffith's fourth-inning home run -- her second of the playoffs -- was the difference in the Lady Barons' win.

Warwick thought it had a double play.

Instead, Wilson had only one out — and life — in the top of the fifth inning trailing 1-0.

Four hits later, the 11th-seeded Lady Bulldogs took a 4-1 advantage and it was a lead they never lost, as they defeated the 6th-seeded Lady Warriors 5-2 in a District Three Quad-A softball game at Manheim Central on Tuesday night.

While Wilson (16-6) advanced to Thursday’s quarterfinal round to face Dallastown, a 1-0 winner over Governor Mifflin, the Warwick girls ended their season with a 16-6 record for the second year in a row.

Things were looking positive for the Lady Warriors through four innings, clinging to a 1-0 lead thanks to Cassidy Godber’s hard-hit triple to right and Karlie Watson’s RBI ground out to shortstop.

But then after Wilson number eight-hitter Haley Crooch reached on a Warwick fielding error leading off the fifth, a whole bunch of weirdness broke out moments later. The next batter, Madison Young, dropped a bunt in front of the plate, which was fielded by WHS catcher Jenny George, who threw to first. Thinking that Young was retired, first baseman Alex Condie then threw to shortstop Madi Derr, who didn’t get the umpire’s out call until she tagged base runner Crooch.

Double play, right? Not so fast. It was ruled that Young was actually safe at first, which brought Warwick coach Don Miller onto the field to dispute the decision, and after a brief conference between the umps, the play stood.

"(The first-base umpire) told me (Condie) did not have the ball and her foot on the bag at the same time," Miller said. "I asked for help, they talked about it and I guess they concluded he had the best view of it … That’s the way it goes. We had some chances that inning to get out of it."

Instead, leadoff batter Shannon Weaver (2-for-4) and Sarah Deck connected for back-to-back singles to load the bases off of Warwick pitcher Tessa Eckman, who scattered 10 hits while striking out one. Shannon Deck then hit a grounder to short, and Derr forced Young at the plate to protect the one-run lead. But cleanup hitter Brittany Smith (2-for-4) followed by stinging a bases-clearing, three-run triple to center field to put the Lady Bulldogs up 3-1.

"(Smith) was the girl I was really worried about because she has pop," Miller said. "It just so happened the way it worked out — one out and the bases loaded — you can’t pitch around her. You’ve got to throw to her and she took advantage of it."

The Lady Bulldogs also took advantage of a Texas League RBI double to left field by pitcher Jaye-Lynn Reed (3-for-4), pushing their lead to 4-1 at inning’s end.

Meanwhile, Reed retired nine straight before issuing a pair of fourth-inning walks, only to wriggle out of trouble. Although the Wilson hurler struck out only three, the Warwick girls had just one hit through five frames before Derr smashed a two-out homer to left field to cut the Lady Bulldogs’ lead to 4-2.

"We jumped on her early … We hit some balls hard, but they played good defense and they made the plays they needed to make," Miller said. "Their shortstop (Sarah Deck) is really good, their third baseman (Smith) is really good. I thought we hit (Reed) well. It’s one of those games that you’d like to play them again. But it comes down to a couple of plays and you’ve got to be the one that makes the plays, and today we weren’t the team that made the plays."

Wilson tacked on an unearned run off of Eckman, with Sarah Deck scoring on Smith’s infield base hit to push the lead to 5-2.

To Warwick’s credit, however, they didn’t go away quietly. They had two of their four hits in the seventh off of Reed, on Nikole Rottkamp’s Texas League single to left and pinch-hitter Ashley Royer’s one-out infield single to deep shortstop. Godber then worked a two-out free pass to put the tying run on board. But Reed, who finished with 97 pitches, worked out of trouble by getting a game-ending pop out to second base.

"The big thing about this team all year, we might make some mistakes, but we never give up," Miller said. "That last inning there, we came back and we made it a game, and we’ve done that all year long, so I’m proud of them for that."

Miller was also proud of them for a season in which they won their eighth straight Section One title and advanced to the L-L playoff semi-finals. Certainly, they would have liked a deeper playoff run, but it wasn’t meant to be.

"I just happened to look and (16-6) was our record last year and I would have liked to improve on it," Miller said. "But we lost some good seniors from last year’s team, so we replaced some people and we’re still relatively young. In the long run, 16-6 was a good season and I would’ve liked to advance a little bit more in Districts. We had a bad inning there and that cost us, and you can’t afford to have bad innings when you get this far." There is no denying the softball skills of Manheim Central’s Alexa and Erika Campbell.

Apparently, they also have some pretty good recruiting skills.

Just ask senior Brittiny Griffith.

Griffith, on the urging of the Campbell sisters, is playing her first year of high school softball this spring, and the Lady Barons are more than happy to have her.

"Some of my friends on the team were pressuring me, (saying), ‘Hey Brit, come out,’ because I used to play slow-pitch, so they know me from that," Griffith said. "They were saying ‘Come on, just try fast pitch.’ And I was like, ‘Alright.’"

Admittedly, she was a little shaky offensively at the start of the season.

But not anymore.

The Lady Barons’ left fielder slugged her second home run of the post-season last Thursday, a fourth-inning blast which was the difference in a 2-1 win over Conestoga Valley last Thursday as Manheim Central captured its fourth Lancaster-Lebanon League championship — and first since 1989 — at Willow Street’s Garrett Park. It also marked their 19th straight win to improve their record this season to 20-3.

"It feels amazing to keep stepping up our game and winning," Griffith said.

"(Winning the L-L title) feels so good, especially because we didn’t get it last year," added winning pitcher Sara McKee, "and Conestoga Valley was definitely out to get us, so it feels really good."

Unfinished business was definitely on the MC girls’ mind last Thursday. The L-L title was one that got away last year in the Lady Barons’ run to the PIAA State Triple-A championship game, with Alexa Campbell as the workhorse pitcher and Sam Ginder as the star shortstop. The Central girls suffered a 2-1 loss to Donegal in the 2011 L-L finals, and although Campbell and Ginder graduated, the Lady Barons reloaded.

Catcher Katie VanBlargan was one of nine seniors on this year’s squad, along with the likes of Griffith and Erika Campbell, who made sure they seized the moment against Conestoga Valley (18-5).

"I think we all kinda knew that this was the one that we really missed out on," VanBlargan said, "and we brought each other together and we were like, ‘This is the time and we need to do it now. There’s no waiting, there’s no second chances after this. It’s now or never.’"

VanBlargan also had the perfect view to see what kind of stuff McKee had. Her trend has been to allow some first-inning base runners before settling into a groove and that was the case again last Thursday, as CV leadoff batter Gloriann Plank was hit by a pitch and Jill Blank worked a six-pitch free pass. After Courtney Allen hit into a fielder’s choice, Gloriann Plank scored on the back end of a double steal.

"I haven’t hit anybody all season," McKee said. "Definitely nerves and it was a screwball, so it was going that way. It just happens."

It didn’t take long for Manheim Central to answer, however, as they put together a two-out rally in the bottom of the first to make it a new ball game. Aerika High smashed a 1-2 offering from CV pitcher Courtney Allen over the head of left fielder Allison Hausman for a double, and then VanBlargan, the Lady Barons’ cleanup hitter, followed with an RBI base hit to shallow center.

"I saw how deep (the CV outfielders) went after Aerika hit her ball, so I knew it was going to drop in," VanBlargan said, "and I was just hoping that Aerika would be able to make it home on that."

From there, McKee, riding a nasty screwball, retired six straight and nine of the next 10, while recording five of her eight K’s.

"(Sara)’s a slow starter at first and then once she gets into the situation, that’s when she’s like, ‘Alright, now is the time to lock it in,’ and that’s when she does it," VanBlargan said. "Her screwball always works for her and she has a nice drop curve. Her drop curve is like Alexa’s."

McKee ran into some trouble in the top of the fourth inning, as CV put runners at second and third base with two outs, but Manheim Central’s junior hurler got Hannah Coble on strikes looking to end the threat.

The score was still tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth when Griffith dug in. Griffith had two of Central’s five hits off of Allen, including a second-inning triple to right-center, so she was confident while working the count to 1-1. On the next pitch, she slammed a gapper to left-center.

It felt sweet coming off the bat, that’s for sure," Griffith said. "I hit it and just ran. The only thing I saw was it going over short."

Lady Barons’ skipper Steve Ginder said there was no doubt that he was waving Griffith after she was stranded at third base in the second inning.

"We had to go with that one," Ginder smiled. "I knew it was going to be a 3-2 or 2-1 game and that was our chance. I figure she’s fast and she’ll slide."

MC’s 2-1 lead was in jeopardy, though, when Conestoga Valley put two runners in scoring position with one out in the top of the sixth on Nicole Allen’s single to left and Morgan Almodovar’s double to right.

The next batter, Hausman, dropped a bunt, and McKee fielded it, looked Allen back at third, and then threw out the base runner.

Asked if he was surprised that Allen didn’t break on contact for the plate, Ginder said, "I’m glad she didn’t. (Sara) played it perfectly. She looked her back twice and then threw, so we were OK."

They were more than OK after McKee again struck out Coble looking, preserving the Lady Barons’ one-run lead.

McKee ended up throwing exactly 100 pitches, while scattering six hits. CV got its final base knock in the top of the seventh inning when Jill Blank legged out infield hit to deep shortstop, and then Courtney Allen was hit by a pitch, putting two runners on board with two outs. But Griffith grabbed all three outs in the seventh inning, including Kelly Martin’s game-ending fly out to seal the win.

"I know that when the ball gets out there, (Brittiny) is going to catch them," McKee said. "And even if she doesn’t catch it, she’s still going to go at it with 100 percent effort."

That was also the kind of effort that the Lady Barons had as a team to record their fourth L-L crown in program history.

"It was a goal that we had and we thought it was accomplishable," Ginder said. "It’s something that we enjoy, and now we’ve got to move on and see what we can do."

Indeed, the Central girls opened play in the District Three Triple-A playoffs on Tuesday, hoping to put together another run like they had just one season ago.

VanBlargan, for one, believes that the pieces are in place to create more memories.

"Definitely feel like we have that team," VanBlargan said, "because most of the same people are back and we have really strong defense … The journey last year and the journey this year is just the best time of my life. I’ve never had it any better." More L-L CHAMPS, page B-8 More LADY WARRIORS, page B-3

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