South All Stars to play in softball LLWS

By JON GERARDI

For The Express

South Williamsport entered the sixth inning against Connecticut in the championship game of the Eastern Regional holding a slim 3-2 lead. The first batter up for Connecticut in the bottom of that inning ended up getting hit, putting the game-tying runner on base.

But Alizabeth Schuler wasn’t rattled or nervous. Sure, she wishes she could have struck her out or forced an out, but Schuler didn’t dwell on it or let it upset her. She shook it off and got back to work a batter later.

Shortly after hitting that leadoff batter, Schuler induced a double play that Gianna Goodman turned for a huge two outs and prevent a momentum shift.

It epitomizes the confidence that Schuler has in the circle for South Williamsport and the ace was nothing shy of dominant at the Eastern Regional tournament.

It’s a huge reason South Williamsport’s journey is continuing with a trip to the Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Oregon, this week.

“She was pitching lights out. You got to give some credit to our defense, but she forced quite a few ground balls. We made the plays. Couple times there where we maybe didn’t make a play, but we came right back and made a play,” South Williamsport coach Cory Goodman said.

For Schuler, being able to force Connecticut’s final batter to strike out swinging was special for her to send South Williamsport back home as regional champions. That was evident as she jumped in the circle and quickly was engulfed by teammates on the infield grass in Bristol, Conn.

“That was amazing. Like we were all so excited and happy and I think it was even more special for me because I pitched the last out and I could never hit that spot before,” Schuler said.

During South Williamsport’s 10-0 win in five innings over Connecticut to send South to the regional final, Schuler was seen talking to her teammates before their at bats, helping give advice and tell them where to hit.

Schuler’s numbers in the circle during the regional tournament were impressive as she dominated each game.

The 5-foot-7 12-year-old in four games pitched 23 innings, allowed just two earned runs, struck out 20 batters, allowed just one extra-base hit and had a string of eight consecutive scoreless innings.

“It was very surprising because I didn’t think I’d be able to shut them down that well,” Schuler said.

“She’s a gamer. She doesn’t get rattled,” Goodman said. “She has the mentality that she’s going to get you out no matter what the situation is. I think having a good defense behind you gives you that confidence where you don’t have to do it yourself. You don’t have to make the perfect pitch. … She was lights out in regionals. She was awesome.”

The defense behind Schuler backed her up the entire regional tournament as well, and Schuler knows how clutch they were for her not just in Bristol, but all summer whenever she allows a ball to be put into play.

“They’ve been amazing. Like if I give up a hit, they’re right there to make the out,” Schuler said. “Even if we don’t make the out, we can make a double play.”

And that solid defense backing Schuler up helped her gain confidence inning after inning through the regional tournament when the lights were shining in Bristol.

In the four games, opponents have connected for 13 hits. But only one was an extra-base hit (a double) and that’s a credit to the South defense limiting the damage opposing bats could do when they made contact.

“It gives the pitcher some confidence. It starts with the catcher (Lily Reidy). She played really well, our infield played really well, our outfield played really well and made some tremendous catches throughout the tournament. Infield made some great plays,” Goodman said. “Just picking people up with runners on. Gianna (Goodman) had a double play that was key in the sixth inning (of championship). Just not getting rattled and backing the team up. It’s just a complete team effort throughout the whole summer to be honest with you.”

“I think it helps (Schuler) more because she knows if anybody hits her, we can back her up and it’s fine,” South Williamsport’s Lacey Kriebel said. “If we make errors, we can make special plays after that that makes up for it.”

Schuler was dominant throughout the Eastern Regional and had a one-hit shutout in a 10-0, five-inning rout of Connecticut. And if Schuler continues pitching as well as she did at regionals and the defense is as solid as it has been, South Williamsport could be tough to beat in Portland.

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