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Central Mountain’s Riley Houser comes up key for Wildcats in win against Shore

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore’s Rahel Hartman lays down a bunt against Central Mountain during Friday’s game.

JERSEY SHORE — Shortstop Riley Houser made two tremendous plays over the game’s final three innings. She produced two hits, including a triple, and scored what became the winning run by reading a grounder well and hustling home.

Obviously, Houser enjoys making those plays and performing so well. But she has a greater goal in mind these days. The senior is focused on being an excellent leader and she succeeded again Friday, helping Central Mountain win a 3-2 thriller against rival Jersey Shore.

Adalynn McKeague recorded a game-ending strikeout with the tying runner on second, Houser and Caitlyn Watson each delivered two hits and Central Mountain remained undefeated, winning the latest exciting game played by these two proud programs.

“I want to be a leader,” Houser said. “I want to have them look up to me.”

Mission accomplished.

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Central Mountain’s Adalynn McKeague throws against Jersey Shore during Friday’s game.

Houser is hitting .583, anchoring a strong defense and helping Central Mountain (4-0) start its season strong. Her fifth-inning one-out triple and sprint home on Madison Hardy’s grounder to the pitching circle gave Central Mountain a 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs (2-1) fought back and loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the fifth, but Houser stopped a hard grounder and threw home for the first out and McKeague allowed only an unearned run.

An inning later, Houser extended herself fully into the hole between shortstop and third base, snaring a Grace Russell screaming liner and robbing her of a one-out hit. Houser capped her strong performance in the seventh inning, making another excellent stop and snap throw for the inning’s first out. How crucial that play was became evident when Carolyn Wacker hit a two-out single and scored on Rachel Lorson’s double.

If Houser does not make that play, Jersey Shore ties the game and would have had a chance to win it in the seventh. And if not for her baserunning, Central Mountain also would have been in trouble. On the grounder to the pitcher, Houser forced a throw to first, then took off, made an excellent slide and just beat the tag.

“It’s very exciting to catch the ball and make a play like that in a close game. I figured it might come down to something like that,” Houser said. “I’m just glad we got the win.”

Had Houser and left fielder Madisyn Wian not made spectacular late-game plays Central Mountain might not have won. A batter after Houser took away a Jersey Shore hit, Wian raced toward the fence and robbed Emma Pfirman of what looked like a sure extra-base hit.

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Central Mountain’s Riley Houser fist bumps her coach between innings during Friday’s game at Jersey Shore.

That all-out effort was reflected by Jersey Shore which did all it could to fight back from that three-run deficit. The Bulldogs did not earn the win, but this young team showed why it can be so dangerous moving forward as it keeps gaining experience.

“I was really happy with the way they played and proud of them. They gutted it out and they almost came back and beat a good team,” Jersey Shore coach Randy Smith said. “We were hitting some solid shots but they were making really good plays.”

McKeague and Jersey Shore pitcher Jocelyn McCracken are both freshmen and continued showing why their teams have bright presents and futures. McKeague improved to 3-0 and struck out seven yesterday, taking a two-hitter into the fifth inning. She threw well in pressure situations and has surrendered just two earned runs in 17 2/3 innings this season while striking out 22.

“She came in as a freshman and I didn’t know what to expect and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what she’s given us. She’s been very impressive,” Central Mountain assistant coach Greg Strouse. “She has some velocity, she has some movement, she changes speeds and we’re really impressed with what she is showing.”

Jersey Shore feels the same way about McCracken. In addition to holding a team which had produced 33 runs in its first three games, McCracken also struck out eight. She has allowed just seven hits and three starts and collected at least one strikeout in every inning yesterday. McCracken delivered in big spots as well and stranded seven baserunners, including leaving the bases loaded in the third inning.

“She’s really coming along. She’s been pitching some excellent games for us,” Smith said. “She’s starting to improve every day.”

Watson helped Central Mountain take a 1-0 first-inning lead, hitting a one-out double before scoring on Madison Hardy’s RBI single. Watson scored again in the third inning after being hit by a pitch and coming home when Maggie Saar was hit by a pitch. Houser’s triple and dash home in the fifth made it, 3-0.

Jersey Shore had only two hits at that point, but effectively played small ball to ignite a fifth-inning rally. After Pfirman hit a leadoff single, Grace Lorson and Rahel Hartman dropped bunt singles. A run scored on an error, but McKeague came up big and retired the next two hitters and keeping it, 3-1. Maddie Herman hit a hard line drive, but center fielder Alexis Strouse read it well and made the inning-ending catch.

Wacker went 3 for 4 and has seven hits in her last two games and both she and Rachel Lorson made things exciting in the seventh inning in a series defined by excitement.

Central Mountain 101 010 0–3 5 1

Jersey Shore 000 010 1–2 7 2

Adalynn McKeague and Caitlyn Watson. Jocelyn McCracken and Rachel Lorson. W–McKeague, (3-0). L–McCracken, (2-1).

Top Central Mountain hitters: Watson 2-3, 2B, 2 runs; Riley Houser 2-3, 3B, run; Madison Hardy 1-4, 2 RBIs; Maggie Saar RBI. Top Jersey Shore hitters: Carolyn Wacker 3-4, run; Lorson 1-4, 2B, 2 RBIs; Emma Pfirman 1-3; Grace Lorson 1-3, run; Rahel Hartman 1-3.

Records: Central Mountain (4-0, 3-0 HAC-I), Jersey Shore (2-1, 2-1).

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