UNIVERSITY PARK — Carly Gonder didn’t mind hitting No. 7 in the Philipsburg-Osceola lineup, but that doesn’t mean she liked it that much, either.
For most of her career, the senior had been penciled in at the top of the Lady Mounties’ batting order, but an early season slump led coach Jim Gonder to move her down midway through the season.
But thanks to a blazing stretch near the end of the regular season and District 6 playoffs, Carly Gonder was back at the leadoff spot Monday in the Lady Mounties’ PIAA Class AA opener against Chartiers-Houston.
She made her uncle look like a genius.
Gonder blasted three hits, including two doubles, drove in two runs and scored another as the Lady Mounties notched a 4-1 triumph at Nittany Lion Softball Park. P-O (22-1) will face Deer Lakes, a 3-0 winner over Fairview, in the second round on Thursday at a site to be determined.
Gonder’s big night at the plate backed a stellar effort from Kate Burge in the circle. Burge tossed a three-hitter and struck out 10 as she shut down the Lady Buccaneers (19-2).
Jim Gonder said the decision to move Carly back to the leadoff spot was simply about numbers.
“It was purely stat-driven,” he said. “We were looking at trends, even trends like how hard she is hitting the ball. The last four or five games, we’ve really seen her trending up. Add to that with her being a senior and being in games likes this before, it made my decision easy. It really wasn’t even a tough one.”
Carly Gonder set the tone in her first at-bat, smacking a double of the wall in right-center field. The Lady Mounties loaded the bases against Toni Spossey in the inning, but the Chartiers-Houston got out of the jam by forcing three hard grounders, two of which ended with forces at the plate.
But, Gonder was back at it in the third. Once again, she doubled in the right-center gap. She moved to third on Haley Frank’s sacrifice and beat a throw home on McKenzie Burge’s groundout.
She delivered the big blow an inning later. After P-O loaded the bases with one out on a hit, walk and an error, Gonder lined Spossey’s first pitch up the middle to plate Haylee Hayward and Megan Bainey to make the score 3-0.
Gonder, who had taken several pitches in her first two at-bats, wasn’t sure why she picked on Spossey’s first offering.
“I’m all over the place when I’m up there,” she said with a laugh. “I truly can’t say what my logic is to what pitch I take and what pitch I don’t take. I really don’t know. I just think a big part of my hitting is I don’t swing for the fence. ... I just need to make contact and that’s all I try to do.”
She’s been doing plenty of that lately, bringing her average up to .375.
And it’s brought her back to the spot in the lineup where she feels most comfortable. She wanted to stay there.
“I was nervous — not about myself — but if I didn’t hit tonight I was worried what he would think,” she said of Jim Gonder. “I felt like he would think it was all in my head and that he would pull me back out of hit. I knew had come in and hit like I did.”
She’s never doubted no matter where she was in the lineup that she would eventually hit.
“I’ve always been confident in my hitting,” Carly Gonder said. “It gets frustrating when you get into a slump. It’s not the I’m not confident. I have to stay confident to come out of it. It’s working.”
That confidence was inspirational to her teammates Monday.
“It was awesome,” Kate Burge said. “That’s her home and that’s where she feels the most comfortable. She didn’t like moving down, but that also helped her. For her to move back and perform the way she did tonight, that makes her confidence go so much farther up.”
Kate Burge’s confidence also soared coming off an up-and-down outing in the Lady Mounties’ 8-7 victory over Ligonier Valley in the District 6 final.
Burge was perfect through three innings and allowed an unearned run in the fifth. She walked just one and had the Lady Buccaneers waving and missing many of her pitches.
“She just had some great movement on her pitches,” Chartiers-Houston coach Tricia Alderson said. “Early on, she just had our number. We were swinging at some pitches out of the zone. Once we made her bring it into the zone, we had a little bit of success, but it was just a little bit too late.”
“Everything in general was working because I didn’t throw one pitch too much,” Burge said of her night. “I threw all of my stuff and I really mixed up my spins.”
“She spotted her pitches better than she did the other day,” Jim Gonder said. “She was very effective moving the ball in-and-out and up-and-down.”
The only Chartiers-Houston run came in a bizarre fashion. With runners at first and third, Burge struck out Sabrina Stankus but dropped the return throw from catcher Gonder, which allowed Megan Kraushaar to score from third.
“I didn’t think Carly was going to throw it,” Burge said. “When she did, it kind of surprised me.”
P-O got the run back in the sixth. McKenzie Burge reached on a two-out error, swiped second base and scored on Abby Showers’ single.
The Lady Mounties finished with eight hits and left 10 runners on base.
“They played a pretty good game,” Jim Gonder said of his club. “Defensively, we played well. We hit the ball hard. We could have scored a lot of runs tonight.”
Alderson, who team had three errors, agreed.
“Overall, could we have done better? Absolutely,” she said. “But, I’m really proud of our team. We lost to a really good team.”
In other action at Penn State on Monday, Cumberland Valley thumped Mifflin County 9-1 in Class AAAA; Ambridge bounced Hollidaysburg 5-2 in Class AAA and Claysburg-Kimmel blanked Burgettstown 4-0 in Class A.
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt