DUBOIS – Two wins over Clearfield by a total of 15 runs made defending champion Punxsutawney a solid favorite for the District 9 Class AAA softball title game Wednesday, but coach Bob Dixon expected his improving Lady Bisons to narrow the gap and give the Lady Chucks a battle.
However, four unearned runs in the first two innings proved to be enough for Punxsy (16-3) to claim its third consecutive championship.
Kelsey Cook and Amber Lellock protected the early lead as they combined on a five-hitter in the 4-2 win at the Highland Elementary School Field.
Freshman Heather Picard suffered the loss despite scattering five hits, striking out three and walking only one against a lineup that had touched her up for 21 hits and 18 runs, half of which were unearned, in the regular-season setbacks.
“She deserved better,” Dixon said. “Most of the time she was right where she wanted to be (with her pitches).
“She had good stuff. Her curve and riser were pretty good. And she had good speed.
“It definitely was one of her best games.”
Two misplays proved to be Clearfield’s downfall.
With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Taylor Powell gave the Lady Chucks a spark with a triple down the left field line. She entered the game with a .500 average but had been hitless in eight at-bats against Picard.
Then, the Lady Bison right-hander hit a batter for the first time in 91 innings, Jenna Reitz joining Powell on the basepaths.
Both runners scored when Shawnna Crago’s high pop-up was dropped. With Crago at second, Lellock faked a bunt as her teammate stole third base. Moments later, Lellock singled to make it 3-0.
An error on Megan Kauffman’s grounder cost the Lady Bisons another run in the second frame. Kauffman stole second, moved up on Ashley Barenchik’s flyout to right and scored on Hannah Neal’s drive that B.J. Bowman tracked down in deep center.
Clearfield was unable to break through against Cook until the sixth inning.
Janell Zalno walked and Bowman bounced a single off Cook’s glove. After they advanced on Suzie Colesar’s grounder to the right side, Zalno sprinted to the plate on a wild pitch as Mia Keener kept fouling off pitches in drawing a 13-pitch walk.
“Did she ever battle,” Dixon said, adding that Keener had forced Cook to throw at least 10 pitches in a previous at-bat.
A one-out single by Tristan Lewis that drove in Bowman prompted Punxsy coach Alan Pifer, in line for his 100th win in six seasons, to bring Lellock into the circle with the tying runs aboard.
Lellock stifled the Lady Bisons with a strikeout and a groundout and followed up with a 1-2-3 seventh to preserve Cook’s ninth victory.
Clearfield’s only other threat came in the third when Cook retired Bowman on a soft liner to first base with runners at the corners.
“The last two innings of our Altoona game (Friday), where they tied us up, I think we found our heart, and we played that way tonight,” Dixon said. “In the last inning, everybody in the dugout was up and at the screen, rooting for every batter. It was great to see.
“Too many times this year, I looked in the dugout and saw them leaning back with their arms or legs crossed.”
He pointed out the attitude change was reflected the way the Lady Bisons responded after falling behind early.
“In he past we might have given up, but something has clicked with them,” Dixon said. “They found out that one of the intangibles in sports is the will to go out and fight. The way Heather was throwing, they just dug their heels in and fought harder.
“That’s a good sign for next year.”
After a 1-5 start, the Lady Bisons rebounded for a 9-9 finish and have a bright future with Zalno, part-time starter Rachel Cordon and reserves Breanna Blaylock and Baillie Davis the only seniors.
Punxsy moves into next week’s PIAA play-in game against the District 6 champion. Bellefonte (18-3) and Lewistown (11-9) have advanced to Thursday’s finals.
“We always say we want to play better at the end of the season than at the start, and we did this year,” Dixon added.
See photos of the game at: http://www.ladybisonsports.org/lbsSBall052610.html
CLEARFIELD — 2
Melinda Owens ss 4000, Janell Zalno lf 2110, B.J. Bowman cf 3110, Suzie Colesar 3b 2010, Mia Keener dp 2000, Mikayla Ebeling rf 3000, Tristan Lewis 2b 3011, McKenzie Moore c 3010, Lucy Kovalick 1b 3000, Heather Picard p (flex) 0000. TOTALS: 25 2 5 1.
Score by Innings
Clearfield 000 002 0 – 2 5 4
Punxsutawney 310 000 x – 4 5 0
Errors – Owens 2, Zalno, Lewis. LOB – Clearfield 6; Punxsutawney 5. 3B – Powell. SF – Neal. SB – Reitz, Crago, Kauffman. CS – Laska (by Moore), Shields (by Moore).
Clearfield – Picard 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.
Punxsutawney – Cook 5-2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K; Lellock 1-1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K.
HB – Picard 1 (Reitz); Cook 1 (Colesar). WP – Cook 1.
W – Cook (9-2). L – Picard (9-6). Save – Lellock (2).
PUNXSUTAWNEY — 4
Ashley Barenchik 2b 3000, Hannah Neal c 2001, Taylor Powell 1b-3b 3110, Kristen Fedder 1b 0000, Jenna Reitz 3b 1100, Chelsea Engeholm ph 1010, Shawnna Crago dp 2100, Kelsey Cook p-ph (flex) 1000, Amber Lellock rf-p 3011, Angela Laska ss 3020, Allie Shields lf 1000, Tia Davis ph 1000, Megan Kauffman cf 2100, Johnna Depp ph 1000. TOTALS: 24 4 5 2.