As the slow pop-up rose into the heavy air of Beard Field at the Nittany Lion Softball Park scores of green and white clad fans collectively held their breath as they tracked the flight of what turned out to be the final out of a stellar softball season and the end of a game that epitomized the never-say-die attitude of this phenomenal group of players.
With the smack of ball into leather the crowd erupted as right fielder McKenna Berg closed her glove and secured not only the out, but the guarantee that for the second time in Donegal softball history PIAA gold would belong to the lady Indians.
It also marked the second time in the past seven months Donegal brought home a PIAA championship as the field hockey team realized the same accomplishment in November. Teammates Rachel Robinson, Grace Miller, and Rachael Overlander were all members of that historic run as well.
Amidst the cheers and a slight cloud of infield dust a pile of elated young ladies shared smiles, laughter, and tears as they reveled in a feeling that only those who have fought together as a team and faced down adversity to come out on the side of victory can fully understand.
Donegal may have come away with the final prize in Friday's 9-7 win over Cedar Cliff in the PIAA 5A championship but it was anything but easy as they twice had to overcome a deficit, including a six-run fifth inning by the Colts that erased a 3-1 lead the ladies had built in the previous at bat.
With their goal firmly in sight, the Tribe battled back and answered the call with six runs of its own in the bottom of the inning and in turn bolstered the confidence of freshman relief pitcher Sierra Neiss, who was the victim of a three-run blast off the bat of Colts' Maddie Sitler that easily cleared the fence in center field increasing the lead to 7-3.
"Sierra did a great job, she came in and made good pitches, only an unfortunate play with the sun getting in our fielder's eyes giving CC an additional at bat hurt her," commented head coach Wayne Emenheiser referring to a small pop-up that dropped in untouched behind third base. "But she regrouped from that and threw two scoreless innings to finish the deal."
The young pitcher took the ball from ace Mikayla Yoder who surrendered four runs, two of which were earned, on seven hits over four and a third innings, including a solo shot over the left field fence by Karson Hastings to open the fifth.
After a shaky start in the first inning, in which a throwing error allowed McDonald to reach third and eventually score on a sacrifice fly by Olivia Jordan, Yoder worked her way out of trouble and ended the inning with the Colts ahead 1-0.
Donegal came back in the fourth when Yoder (1-3, double) stepped to the plate with one out and sent the first pitch she saw from Colts' pitcher Avery Winchall over Hasting's head in left field to end up on second.
Kaitlyn Witmer (2-3, double, 3 RBI) worked a walk and Hornick (1-2, 1 RBI) sent a single into center field which plated Jessica Kosheba, courtesy runner for Yoder, to tie the game at 1-1.
Enter Robinson, the consummate, unflappable leader who could very easily make the case as the best individual athlete to walk the halls of Donegal and is most assuredly a shoe-in for a future spot in the school's Athletic Hall of Fame.
When asked about his star second baseman, Emenheiser acknowledged not only Robinson but his entire group of graduating seniors saying, "Rachel as well as all of the seniors have showed great leadership and the never-give-up-attitude their entire careers, I believe that is why they really had so much success during their careers, along with being tremendously talented softball players."
He also knows the intangibles that come along with having such an experienced group of veterans, "The seniors are a great group of young ladies; between all of them they have played over 450 varsity games and have won every team championship possible, Section, League, District and now State Championship. It has been an honor watching them play and coaching them over the last four years, seeing them mature into the amazing young ladies they all are. We will miss all of them and what they brought to this historic team."
As is most often the case in athletics the playmakers come through in the clutch, and this time was no exception as Robinson (2-3, triple, 3 RBI) ripped a shot into left field that got by Hastings for a bases-clearing triple and a 3-1 Donegal lead.
Cedar Cliff, which eliminated Donegal from the District Three tournament with a 9-5 semifinal victory, proved that it belonged in the title game as well by putting up the monster fifth inning that could very easily have demoralized the Indians.
Unfortunately, for the Colts, quitting is not in the Indians' DNA and they never hung their heads or got caught up in negative thoughts.
"The one thing about our group is that they never get stressed and never give up. I truly believe they do not look at the opponent but look at what they need to do to win," stated Emenheiser. "I did not need to say anything after the top of the fifth, they were focused from the time they got to the dugout to turn things around."
Showing cracks in the armor, Winchell surrendered back-to-back walks to Emily Graham (0-2, run scored) and Savanna Kolenda (0-3, run scored) in the bottom half of the fifth.
Now, feeling a shift in momentum, Donegal's offense rose to the challenge as Morgan Biesecker (1-4, 1 RBI) singled home Graham and Yoder worked Winchell for her third walk of the inning to load the bases.
Sensing an opportunity, Witmer (2-3, double, 3 RBI) calmly stepped to the plate and showed the stadium why she finished the season with the third highest batting average at .455.
With the count at 1-2 the senior first baseman ripped a line drive past a diving Naomi Englehart in right-center for a bases-clearing double to knot the game at 7-7.
Robinson's second hit of the game went for a single that plated Witmer for the 8-7 lead, and Berg (1-3) followed with a single into shallow right that advanced Robinson to second base before Neiss (1-33, 1RBI) sent her home on a base hit to make it 9-7 heading into the sixth.
Neiss, her confidence restored, settled in on the rubber and retired five of the final seven batters she faced to finish with three unearned runs on four hits and one strikeout.
Cedar Cliff threatened in both of the remaining innings as McDonald singled and stole second in the sixth, but was thrown out
attempting to steal third, and Jordan doubled to start the seventh, advancing to third on a sacrifice fly by Winchell.
A put-out by Kolenda at short and the final pop-up to Berg in right sealed the deal for the ladies and completed a win for the ages.
To reach the finals Donegal faced Section Three foe Lampeter-Strasburg in the semifinals and handled the Pioneers, 7-0. It was the fourth time the Indians defeated L-S in five tries this season.
Junior left fielder Grace Miller played superb defense tracking down five fly balls including two diving catches to help keep the L-S offense in check.
Yoder pitched five innings of four hit ball while Neiss only surrendered two hits over the final two.
Hornick (3-4, double, 2RBI) and Robinson (2-4, double, 2RBI) led at the plate for the Indians.
Eight years prior to Friday's romping celebration in the infield another medal ceremony took place on the infield of Glatfelter Field in Columbia.
That one marked the end of a 10u tournament featuring a Mount Joy team and a Maytown team that battled to an international tiebreak finish in the championship game.
No less than four of the players on the field that day in 2009 comprised the starting lineup of Friday's game and I am sure there were more than this aging writer's memory can recall.
As the parents of both teams gathered on the field to take photos to add to half-filled scrapbooks, Chris Miller, former Donegal baseball coach and father of Grace, looked around and announced to those of us on the field that we could very well be looking at a future state championship team.
Congratulations to those young ladies whose childhood dreams from that day finally came true on a hot day in State College, as well as every other player in the dugout on Friday whose name will be forever associated with a part of Donegal history.
Eastern York Caps Season in PIAA Quarterfinals June 14, 2017
The dream run through the 2017 postseason has officially come to an end for the Eastern York softball team. The magical journey that took the Lady Golden Knights through their first District 3 Championship game and into the PIAA tournament ended with a 15-4, five inning quarterfinal loss on June 8th to District 1 champ, Tunkhannock. With the loss, Eastern York finished with a 17-7 mark.
Eastern wasn't able to keep pace with the Lady Tigers, falling behind by a 3-0 count after just one inning. That made the Lady Golden Knights' failed rally in the top of the first painful enough but what happened in the second basically ended the game.
Tunkhannock sent 13 batters to the plate in the bottom half of the second, leading to nine runs and a 12-0 lead. Despite the seemingly insurmountable lead, Eastern York kept working, pushing two runs across in the top of the third to keep that comeback hope alive a bit longer. Morgan Winter was responsible for those runs, drilling a double for her only hit of the game.
The Lady Tigers got one of those runs back in the bottom half of the frame, making it 13-2 after three innings. The Lady Golden Knights were not finished fighting, plating another two runs in the fourth courtesy of RBI hits by Alalise Fenwick and Morgan Dobbeck. That moved the score to 13-4 and gave Eastern York a bit of hope. Unfortunately, Tunkhannock squashed that hope, plating two runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth, making it 15-4 and bringing the 10-run rule into play as the fifth inning got underway.
Needing to score at least two runs to keep the game and their season alive, the Lady Golden Knights went to work. The result was two baserunners just two batters into the inning which turned into runners on the corners with just one out. That one out quickly became three as the Lady Tigers pulled off an inning and game ending double play.
Maelynn Leber absorbed the brunt of the damage on the mound for Eastern York despite a short one and two third inning stay in the circle. The typically sensational freshman allowed eight hits and 10 earned runs over those five outs but did not issue a walk or pick up a strikeout. Fenwick covered the final three and one third inning for Eastern, surrendering the final five runs on five hits and two walks.
Fenwick finished with two of Eastern York's 11 hits, joining Dobbeck and Haidyn Shaffer in the multi-hit club. Winter, Katie Lehman, Megan Myers, Amber Forry and Kierstin Grove completed the offense with one hit each.
Lady Pioneers Advance to PIAA Semifinals June 12, 2017
For the second year in a row, the Lampeter-Strasburg girls' softball team finds itself in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals. They did it last week with wins over Archbishop Wood and Bishop Shanahan and with a juggled lineup.
"I wasn't sure we'd win two state games with our best hitter out with a concussion," said head coach Gene Charles. "The team really stepped up."
With third baseman Hanna Garber on the bench, centerfielder Jordan Kondras moved to the infield, Summer Peters stepped into the outfield and the Pioneers got back to their winning ways.
After suffering back-to-back losses to Spring Grove, 10-3 in the District Three Class 5A semifinals, and Donegal, 4-1 in the third place seeding game, the Pioneers broke out the bats and toppled District 12 champ Archbishop Wood 15-5. And they did it after a three hour delay.
Scheduled for a 5 pm start, the Pioneers never took the field at Arcadia University until 8 pm due to weather delays in the earlier games. They shook off a 1-1 tie, took the lead for good with a single run in the second inning and never looked back.
A full count RBI double by Caroline Braungard pushed in Natalie Carson, who led off with a single, for Lampeter's go-ahead run.
Both teams pushed in two third inning runs but the Pioneers started to pull away with a four spot in the top of the fourth. With two outs, and the bases loaded, Kylie Weaver crushed a bases clearing triple and raced home on an errant throw on the play, pushing the lead to 8-3.
The Vikings, who helped L-S along by committing eight errors, scored just two more runs over the final four innings. The Pioneers, on the other hand, plated two in the sixth and, after the Vikings left the bases loaded in the sixth, pushed across five more in the seventh to deny Archbishop Wood a shot at the quarterfinals.
Braungard started the seventh with a single to left. Julz Garber put down a sacrifice bunt that was thrown over first. With one out, Kondras cracked a two run base hit, pushing in Braungard and Garber. Brynn Baker came through with a single to left field and both scored on Delaney Groff's double. Natalie Carson's grounder to third was misplayed and pinch hitter Jordan Graybill pushed in the final run with a fielder's choice.
"It was good to get the bats going again," said Charles. "We knew they had a good pitcher. She struck out 18 in their district championship game but we showed some patience at the plate."
The Pioneers struck out seven times but their 15 hits, coupled with the Vikings' loose defense, more than made up for it.
The Vikings looked to threaten in the bottom of the seventh, connecting for three base hits, but a pop out, a strikeout and a pickoff at first base ended the game.
Groff struck out five, walked three and scattered 12 hits in picking up the win. She also helped her cause at the plate with two base hits, including a double, and two RBI.
Thursday's quarterfinals action found the Pioneers at Avon Grove High School where they found themselves in a back-and-fourth game with Bishop Shanahan and pulled out a 5-4 thriller with a sixth inning two-run double by J. Garber.
"To come from behind not once, but twice," said Charles, "tells me where the mentality of our team is right now. But I knew they had a dominating pitcher. She needed just one strikeout to hit 300 and she did that against our first batter. We didn't hit through the first three innings but then we finally got going and I think they got flustered a bit."
Shanahan opened the scoring with a manufactured run in the second inning. L-S batted around in the bottom of the fourth and took a 3-1 lead.
Delaney Baker doubled to right and scored on a close play at the plate on Groff's single past third. Carson's single to right field gave L-S the lead.
With two outs, Weaver walked and Braungard, batting ninth, hit a two strike dribbler that barely got out of the batter's box. It was ruled fair and loaded the bases.
J. Garber followed with a four pitch walk that extended Lampeter's advantage.
A pop out ended the inning with the bases loaded.
The Eagles went back in front with a three spot in the sixth, sending eight to the plate. They got to Groff for five hits, three earned runs and snatched the lead, 4-3.
L-S quickly answered. B. Baker singled with one out, Weaver doubled to the left field fence and Braungard worked a full count walk to load the bases.
"I was concerned when they grabbed the lead," said Charles. "But the girls responded with clutch hits. I thought about bunting Weaver but something told me to let her swing. That was a huge hit, especially since she's been struggling."
Garber, the freshman lefty, calmly stepped to the plate and stroked a two run double that gave L-S the lead, 5-4.
Groff (5K, 2W, 8H) gave up a two out single in the top of the seventh but a fly ball out to Kate Rohrer in right field pushed the Pioneers to the semifinals where they will meet Donegal for the fifth and final time this season.
"Groffie threw one of her better games," noted Charles. "She hit her spots and battled out there. I'm proud of the way she's been throwing.
"Now we face a team that's beaten us three straight times," he said of Donegal. "And there's a lot on the line. The girls need to believe that they can beat this team. They did it once. They can do it again."
Baron Teams Fall in PIAA Playoffs June 12, 2017
A memorable season for the Manheim Central boys volleyball team is officially over following a PIAA Class AA State Championship Tournament semifinals round setback to Northeastern last Tuesday, June 6, at Red Lion High School.
The five-time reigning and York County perennial powerhouse state champion Bobcats won an exciting 3-2 (25-23, 22-25, 17-25, 25-22, 15-11), thriller to drop the curtain on the Barons 2017 season. Central finished the year with an impressive overall record of 22-3.
Tanner Stauffer led the offense with a team high 18 kills. Teammate Mason Nissley was second best with 15. Brandyn Musser also chipped in offensively, serving up a pair of aces.
Stauffer put up a hat trick of blocks and tied Ben Burkhart, Musser, and Gabriel Stewart, who all finished with seven digs. Nissley chipped in with six digs.
The only senior player this season was Chase Fahnestock.
The baseball team, with five seniors, was eliminated in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A State Championship Tournament by Greater Latrobe Area at White Township Park in Indiana (PA) last Tuesday.
The district seven champ Wildcats, with a total of six hits and a dramatic four run bottom of the seventh inning, defeated the Barons in a come-from-behind, 5-4 thriller.
"It was one out from moving onto state quarterfinals," said head coach Matt Huber. "We've been on the other end a few times this year and, unfortunately, we finished the season losing three one run ball games.
"I'm extremely proud of our team," Huber continued. "I was fortunate to coach an extraordinary group of young men. We played our cards exactly how we wanted to. In the end, Latrobe made more plays than we did."
In an evenly played game on offense by both teams, the Barons (2 errors), with a total of seven hits, scored the first run of the game on a Taylor Rohrer RBI single in the top of the second inning. Key hits from Brandon Fisher and Note Loser, in the third inning, led to three runs and raised the score to 4-0.
Greater Latrobe (4 errors) gained some confidence in the bottom of the sixth, crossing their first run of the game and trailed the Barons 4-1.
The Barons came up empty in the top of the seventh inning and Greater Latrobe responded with a four run bottom half to steal the one run triumph and put an end to the season for Manheim. They finished with an overall record of 15-10.
Taylor Rohrer (9K, 1BB), and Drew Mummau (0K, 2BB), both saw action on the hill for the Barons.
"At the beginning of every season, we have goals to win a section, league, district, and state title," stated Huber. "Those goals won't change. Every win that you can get in the game of baseball is a team accomplishment and I hope that there will be many more to come next season."
Senior players this season were Brandon Fisher, Trevor Hosler, Tyler Lutz, Tyler Lyons, and Robert Miller.
"This senior class was special," stated Huber. "For some, it was their second trip to states in three years. Tyler Lutz will always be remembered for his hard work and ethic. A perfect example is his hustle at E-Town in district playoffs. He was a wall behind home plate for us.
"Tyler Lyons will always be a big part of our program," Huber continued. "He contributed a lot with his bat this year and exhibited leadership skills.
"And Bobby Miller will always be remembered as one of the hardest workers in our program. It was great to see him get his first RBI at Lebanon Catholic," lauded Huber.
"Trevor Hosler was a welcomed addition to the program the past two seasons. He pitched against the number two seed in the districts this year and the number four seed in districts during the regular season and held them to minimal runs.
"Brandon Fisher was a great outfielder for us," ended Huber.
Indians Advance to PIAA Class 5A Semifinals June 12, 2017
Two down, two to go. That was the line for Donegal as last week ended with the lady Indians advancing to the PIAA semifinals for the second year running in their fifth straight tournament appearance.
Donegal moved its record to 25-4 after eliminating West Chester Henderson (16-9) 3-2 in the opening round of 5A play last Monday and then holding on to defeat Abington Heights (15-3) on Thursday, 6-5, in a 10 inning International Tiebreaker in the quarterfinal round.
Scoring three runs in the first inning against WCH, Donegal took an early lead which they never relinquished as Makyla Yoder kept the damage to a minimum by only surrendering two runs on four hits in the complete game victory.
Yoder retired the first eight batters she faced before giving up her first hit of the game in the third inning. That resulted in West Chester Henderson's first run as Madelynn Skinner turned on the second pitch she saw and sent it rocketing over the wall in center field.
One more run in the fourth off the bat of Cameron Trotter marked the end of scoring for the Warriors as Yoder settled in and took care of business by putting away 11 of the remaining 12 Henderson batters.
Rachel Robinson (2-2, double, 2RBI) gave Donegal its early advantage in the first when she ripped a hard, bases-loaded shot into left field which bounced over the wall for a ground rule double and scored courtesy runners Jessica Kosheba and Cheyenne Klinedinst.
Morgan Biesecker (1-3) got the ball rolling when she took first on a one-out walk and then advanced to second when Yoder (1-4) singled into left. Katlyn Witmer then loaded the bases when she drew a walk of her own, scoring from third on a wild pitch to McKenna Berg.
One thing that head coach Wayne Emenheiser appreciates is how the offensive play of Robinson has come around following a major surgery that forced her to miss her entire junior season.
"I believe Robinson is back to where she was two years ago, before the knee injury," said Emenheiser. "It took some time for her to get back offensively, but defensively she has been a stud all year long."
Both aspects of Robinson's game were on display in the quarterfinal matchup with Abington Heights as the senior made a few clutch plays in extra innings including a diving snag of a line drive in the eighth and delivered the eventual winning run when she tripled home pinch runner Kosheba in the tenth.
Donegal also had help from freshman pitcher Sierra Neiss who has done well for Emeheiser this season when called on in relief of Yoder and has also recorded some starts as well.
With Yoder pitching well into the sixth inning and holding the explosive Comets offense scoreless on three hits, it seemed as if Neiss would be a non-factor as the lady Indians led 5-0 at that point.
However, fortunes can change quickly and Yoder soon found herself in a bind after surrendering three runs in the sixth and with runners on first and second in the seventh inning with no outs.
With the lead cut to 5-3, Neiss received the call and got out of the inning, but not before giving up two unearned runs to tie the game. She settled in after that, however, and retired the next nine batters, setting the stage for Robinson (4-5, triple, RBI).
"Sierra Neiss has been a pleasant surprise," stated Emenheiser. "Makyla has carried the pitching duties for so long and has had so much success, it's nice to be able to take a little bit of the pressure off her with Sierra, they make a great one two punch."
He knows that they are fortunate to have essentially two starters who can deliver whenever the circumstances dictate. "The game of softball is a pitcher dominated game and to have two great pitchers is a bonus," added Emenheiser.
Scoreless after the first inning, Berg (2-6) represented the first Donegal run when she scored on a two-out single by Emily Graham (2-6, 1RBI).
Biesecker (2-6, 2RBI) drove in two more with a single to center that plated Graham and Savanna Kolenda (4-5) who reached with base single of her own.
Witmer (3-6, 2RBI) made it 5-0 in the fourth inning when she brought home both Kolenda and Graham on an infield grounder.
In the tenth, with the score tied at 5-5, the International Tiebreak took effect which places the player who made the final out in the previous inning on second base, in this case it was Witmer.
Emenheiser pinch-ran Kosheba in her place, however, who advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Peighton Hornick (2-5) and then came home on Robinson's RBI.
The win paired Donegal with a very familiar foe in long- time rival Lampeter-Strasburg (22-6) which defeated Bishop Shanahan 5-4 to advance to the semis.
Donegal held a 3-1advantage over the Pioneers heading into the matchup which has actually already been played as of this printing.
Asked if the familiarity between the two teams and the Indians' subsequent dominance might cause his players to lose some focus, Emenheiser said, "I do not think the girls will overlook LS, they realize at this point in the season that everyone is bringing their best."