PITTSBURGH — Bellefonte began its softball season with plenty of questions to answer.
Although the Lady Raiders’ 2014 campaign ended earlier than they hoped it would, they extended it long enough to draw some promising conclusions. Now, following a loss in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA championships, the Lady Raiders will have to wait another year to apply their lessons.
Bellefonte (13-9) fell to District 7 champion Thomas Jefferson 8-4 at Baldwin High School on Monday to end a promising run for a group — save for seniors Vanessa Cooper, Erin Pugh and Olivia Ripka — of mostly underclassmen.
“It’s really good experience,” Bellefonte coach Gregg Kohlhepp said. “They were new to the experience and I think they learned a lot from the seniors about how to play this game. I think us being able to play at a very high level in games at the end of the season ... seeing what this type of game is like, dealing with the pressure that is there and understanding that for six innings we were right there with them and it’s understanding that we can play at this level.”
The Lady Raiders, fresh off a strong run through the District 6 tournament that brought wins over Hollidaysburg and Johnstown, looked as if they’d pick up where they’d left off.
Bellefonte jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the WPIAL champion Lady Jaguars — a squad that had seen a recent postseason surge much like the Lady Raiders.
Angela Capparelle led off with a single to right center to start the game. After Ripka flew out, Cooper reached on an error by Thomas Jefferson’s right fielder. Tara Baney walked to push Capparelle into scoring position but Thomas Jefferson pitcher Lacie Lautner struckout Pugh on four pitches immediately thereafter.
With two outs, the Lady Jaguars started to get jittery with the ball.
Stevi Confer slapped a ball toward third base but Thomas Jefferson’s Kyla Prickett couldn’t glove the throw and Capparelle and Cooper both scored on the error. Baney came around to score on Sarah Menna’s single before Lizz Linn lined out to end the inning.
Save for three more singles scattered about, the Lady Raiders wouldn’t muster any more offense as Lautner settled in and her defense calmed down behind her.
Meanwhile, Bellefonte’s defense showed a few nervous ticks of its own early on.
The Lady Jaguars took advantage of five Bellefonte errors — three in a row and two on one play — and earned a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the bottom of the first. Rachel Bowers reached first base when Ripka couldn’t flag down a ball hit her way toward second. With two outs, Lauren Herazo drilled a Baney pitch over the left field fence to cut Bellefonte’s lead to 3-2.
Emily Schneider reached on an error and Lindsey Kalup singled to left field. Both scored on back-to-back errors to give the Lady Jaguars a 4-2 lead before a flyout ended the first.
“We had jitters early on,” Kohlhepp said. “They started off and made some mistakes and gave us some runs. We turned around, made some mistakes and gave them right back.”
Bellefonte stranded just two runners on base the rest of the way as Lautner struck out three hitters over the next six innings and got timely assists from her defense. Linn was caught stealing by Thomas Jefferson catcher Amanda O’Toole to end the fourth and Kalup robbed Menna of a base hit to get the final out of the sixth.
Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t strike again until the sixth. Then, the Lady Jaguars plated four runs on three hits with Confer and Rachael Bernier splitting pitches on the mound. Confer left the game after walking the first batter of the inning, giving up back-to-back singles, one run and another walk. The Lady Jaguars picked up another run on a passed ball.
Prickett lined a two-run double off of Bernier in the next at-bat to end the scoring.
“We had a great run,” Kohlhepp said. “Hats off to Thomas Jefferson, they played a better game today and were able to win it.”