BEA Softball magical run comes to an end in the State Championship
By CHRIS MORELLI
UNIVERSITY PARK — It was, quite simply, an inning the Bald Eagle Area softball team will have nightmares about.
BEA was clinging to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth of the PIAA Class AAA softball championship game when things began to unravel.
A seemingly harmless single started the inning and when it was all said and done, undefeated Pine Grove sent nine batters to the plate and scored five runs. Just like that, the Cardinals had erased a one-run deficit and took a commanding 7-3 lead.
That would be the final as Pine Grove completed its perfect season and dashed BEA’s state title dreams at Penn State’s Beard Field on a sun-splashed Friday afternoon.
“I thought for most of the game – with the exception of that one inning – we played them neck and neck,” a dejected BEA head coach Don Lucas said while standing the bowels of Beard Field. “If you look at their scores this year, they were in the double digits. We were able to handle that … we had runners in scoring position and just didn’t get that big hit.”
For Pine Grove, which finished its incredible run at 28-0, the script was a familiar one. Although it didn’t trail in many games this season, head coach Ryan Leffler wasn’t surprised by his team’s explosion in the sixth.
“We always tell them to believe in themselves,” Leffler said. “We knew it was going to come. We felt like if we shut them down, the hits were going to come. That’s what we’ve done all year. The kids have been very resilient. They stuck with the plan, believed in each other and had that one big inning.”
Make no mistake about it, BEA (22-4) had Pine Grove on the ropes early. Trailing 1-0, the Lady Eagles went to work. In the top of the third, No. 9 hitter Madison Eckley laced a single to center. A sacrifice moved her up and a single by Kara Hockenberry moved her to third.
Hockenberry attempted to steal second and when she got in an apparent rundown, Pine Grove catcher Trisha Kopinetz threw the ball into center, scoring Eckley. That tied the game at 1-1.
The Lady Eagles weren’t done, though. Maralee Caldana singled to left field, scoring Hockenberry. That gave BEA its first lead of the game, 2-1.
Madison Peters followed with a double to left field, scoring Caldana.
But those three runs would be all the offense the Lady Eagles could muster.
“Once we got those runs, we got really excited,” said BEA second baseman Madison Eckley. “I think we got too comfortable, so we didn’t continue to push. We knew that three (runs) wasn’t going to make it. Our bats kinda died toward the end.”
Over the final four innings, BEA could muster just two hits against Megan Wolfe, who came in to relieve starter Olivia Lehman.
Pine Grove didn’t have a weak link in its lineup. Leadoff hitter Katelynn Rittenbaugh led the way, going 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Lehman and Casey Kershner had two hits apiece, but the RBI triples in the backbreaking sixth inning belonged to Lehman and Wolfe.
“We’ve hit the ball like that all year. It just took us awhile to wake up today,” Leffler said.
BEA was led by Caldana’s three hits (all singles) and pitcher Maddie Peters, who went 2-for-3.
Peters, who took the loss, said that she was proud of all her team accomplished.
“We only have one senior this year, so for us being that young we made an amazing run,” Peters said. “I feel like we got a little too comfortable with that 3-1 lead and you just never know what’s going to happen.”
Lucas said that the tough loss wouldn’t put a damper on all his team has accomplished.
“I won’t let this loss define our season,” he said. “We had a heck of a run. We just ran out of innings.”
Pine Grove 7, BEA 3
Bald Eagle 003 000 0 – 3 7 3
Pine Grove 100 015 x – 7 10 1
Pitchers and catchers: BEA – Peters and King; Pine Grove – Lehman, Wolfe and Kopinetz.
Caldana (three singles, 1 RBI), Peters (single, double, 1 RBI).
Rittenbaugh (2 singles, double, 1 RBI), Lehman (single, triple, 2 RBIs), Wolfe (triple, 1 RBI).
Pine Grove: 28-0