LORETTO — After surviving another nerve-wracking finish, the Clearfield Area High School softball players spent several minutes jumping, yelling and screaming for several minutes on the turfed Red Flash Field in celebration of a history-making 2-1 win over Avonworth in a PIAA Class AAA Tournament quarterfinal thriller Thursday afternoon.
The Lady Bison swarmed pitcher Emma Hipps as soon as shortstop Kyra Mollura speared Maya Kozuk’s line drive to make the school’s first trip to the state semifinals official.
District 9 champ Clearfield will play a very familiar opponent in the Western Final Monday at a site and time to be announced, for District 6 king Bald Eagle Area edged Keystone Oaks 4-2 in the nightcap of the Class AAA doubleheader on the St. Francis University campus.
The Lady Bison and the Mountain League co-champion Lady Eagles, who swept the home-and-home season series, are the last two of the seven league teams that entered the postseason in two classifications.
Slipping past Avonworth, the District 7 (WPIAL) titlist, gave the Lady Bison a 14-9 record and a season-best four-game winning streak.
And it was a white-knuckler, especially for the fans and coaches.
Just as she did in Monday’s 4-3 squeaker over Chestnut Ridge, Hipps needed to get two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning with the tying run at third base.
Natalie Marshall was perched there after her hard-hit, sinking fly ball to right field dipped under on-rushing Alexis Benton’s glove and rolled to the fence for just the third hit off Hipps.
That brought up the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Avonworth’s very best.
The Lady Bison hurler was up for the challenge once again, frustrating the Lady Antelopes and their followers who made the trip from just north of Pittsburgh by striking out Sarah Helffrich and firing three consecutive strikes to Kozup.
The Edinboro University recruit, a strikeout victim in two previous at-bats, rifled the last one right at Mollura, and it was bang-bang, bat to glove.
Clearfield coach Derek Danver marveled at the composure Hipps has displayed at the end of this week’s wild finishes.
“She has ice in her veins,” he said. “She’s so poised out there. She just goes out and battles, and she wins most of ‘em.”
Hipps’ demeanor rubs off on to the rest of the team, according to Danver.
“I don’t know how they stay calm in these situations,” he said. “I know the coaching staff isn’t staying calm in the dugout. Hats off to these girls. They’ve done it two games in a row, and to move on in the state tournament is awesome.”
Hipps had worked out of two earlier jams, stranding two runners in scoring position in the fourth inning and three in the fifth after the Lady Antelopes loaded the bases with their first two hits and a one-out intentional walk to Helffrich.
Avonworth (21-3) posted its run, unearned, without benefit of a hit in the fourth, as Cat Barie drove in Helffrich with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly following two walks and an error on a sacrifice bunt.
In the pivotal fifth inning, the Lady Antelopes filled the sacks with one out once more when Danver elected to give Helffrich an intentional walk with first base open following hits by Emily Davis and Domi Raught.
“I had confidence Hipps could go and get their four and five hitters,” Danver said. “Not that I didn’t have confidence she could get the three hitter (Helffrich), but I know she’s a great hitter and didn’t want to take any chances there.”
The strategy paid off.
After Hipps fanned Kozup, third baseman Casey English jumped to snag Leah Logan’s one-hopper for the inning-ending forceout, one several defensive gems by the Lady Bison.
“We had a couple misplays, but we made some really nice plays, too,” Danver said. “So, great job all around, great team win.”
Hipps wound up with a three-hitter and nine strikeouts in her 20th complete game in 22 starts. She did walk four, matching her season high, and hit one batter.
The coin flip didn’t fall Clearfield’s way for the second game in a row, but Danver made that a positive for the Lady Bison, telling them, “Hey, it’s a good thing. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to score first, and we’re going to set the tone for this game.”
The Lady Bison took the message to heard, grabbing the quick lead with two of their six hits off Helffrich after Karly Rumsky drew a leadoff walk.
The Lady Bison senior center fielder, who robbed Helffrich of an extra base hit with a back-handed catch in right center in the bottom of the first, moved up to second on a groundout by Hipps and then scored when Olivia Bender’s infield hit was thrown away at first base.
Lauren Ressler then drove in courtesy runner Lauren Ressler with an opposite-field double that one-hopped the fence in left center.
“We cooled off a little bit, but we did enough defensively and Hipps did a great job in the circle to hold ‘em off,” Danver said.
Helffrich settled in to pitch a six-hitter with four strikeouts and four walks.
Except for the fourth inning when singles by Mollura and Benton and a walk to Kylee Hertlein loaded the bases with two outs, no Lady Bison touched second base.
Hipps saw to it that they didn’t need any more runs.
““I can’t say enough about these girls and how hard they work and how motivated they are,” Danver said. “I’m just proud of them and how relaxed they’ve been. They act like they’ve been in this situation a hundred times.
“And a shout out to Rumsky for being the leader, being the mom of the younger girls, taking them under her wing and really keeping them in the game and keeping them motivated.
CLEARFIELD — 2
Karly Rumsky cf 3110, Morgan Cheek lf 4010, Emma Hipps p 3000, Olivia Bender c 4110, Lauren Ressler 1b 3011, Kyra Mollura ss 2010, Casey English 3b 2000, Alexis Benton rf 3010, Kylee Hertlein 2b 2000. TOTALS: 26 2 6 1.
AVONWORTH — 1
Dom Raught ss 3010, Natalie Marshall 2b 4010, Sarah Helffrich p 2100, Maya Kozup cf 3000, Leah Logan c 2000, Meghan Fissore 3b 2000, Cat Bari elf 2001, Abby Stanley rf 3000, Emily Davis dp 3010, Zoie Perry 1b (flex) 0000. TOTALS: 24 1 3 1.
Score by Innings
Clearfield 200 000 0 – 2 6 2
Avonworth 000 010 0 – 1 3 1
E – Hipps, English; Fissore. DP – Avonworth 1 (Helffrich and Perry). LOB – Clearfield 8; Avonworth 9. 2B – Ressler. 3B – . Sac – Fissore, Barie. SB – Raught.
Clearfield – Hipps 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 9 K.
Avonworth – Helffrich 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K.
HB – Hipps 1 (Kozup); Helffrich 1 (Mollura).
W – Hipps (13-8). L – Helffrich.
Umpires – Bill Johnson (plate), Bruce Legros (first base), Jim Noye (second base) and Steve Winterstein (third base).