UNIVERSITY PARK — For five innnings, the two Centre County softball heavweights circled each other and the scorecard said the same thing for Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola:
One run, four hits, one error.
For two teams that were separated by one run in three previous matchups, the numbers weren’t surprising.
But as it has so often this season, BEA delivered its knockout blow in the late innings and now the Lady Eagles have a chance for PIAA gold.
BEA scored six runs in its final two at-bats and notched a 7-3 triumph over P-O before a huge crowd Monday at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park. Mikala Smith and Marissa Tobias each drove in a pair of runs and Makennah Dyke tossed a seven-hitter to lead the triumph before 1.350 fans inside the gates and a few hundred more outside.
The Lady Eagles (22-4) will face Central Columbia (24-2), which knocked off Susquenita 10-5 earlier at Beard Field. The title game is currently scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, but there is a possibility that could change. Springfield Delco, which advanced to the Class AAA title game scheduled for 5:30 p.m., has graduation Friday night prompting the chance of a switch.
BEA broke the 1-1 tie with four runs in the sixth, the same inning in which the Lady Eagles scored three to tie P-O (21-6) before winning 5-4 in eight innings in the District 6 title game nearly two weeks ago.
“We always wait so long,” said Smith, who scored three times. “We definitely strung our hits together better this game and that helped us a lot.”
Through five innings, it was the kind of game that the large crowd expected.
Freshman Maggie Peck, making just her third start this season, matched Dyke through five innings.
BEA broke through first in the fourth inning. Smith, after belting a long foul ball over the fence, used her legs to reach on an infield hit. She moved to second on a wild pitch and raced home on Tobias’ RBI single to center field.
The Lady Mounties squared it an inning later. Megan Bainey singled and moved to second on BEA’s lone error. She advanced to third on Annie Kost’s sacrifice bunt and easily scored on Tiffani Wagner’s sacrifice fly to center.
Then came the defensive highlight of the game. BEA right fielder Logan Fischer raced in and made a spectacular diving catch, robbing Haley Frank of a sure triple.
“I make those catches quite a bit,” Fischer said. “I’m usually the one that dives for them. That was one, I did not think I was going to get it. I stuck my glove out there pretty far and I got it.”
The game turned from there.
Haley Giedroc crushed a double to lead off the sixth and moved to third on Dyke’s bunt. Smith then grounded the ball to P-O first baseman Kenzie Burge, who threw late to the plate to get the speedy Giedroc. Smith ended up at second on the play and scored on Fischer’s two-out single to right. Olivia Andrews then smoked an RBI double deep to dead center and later came home on Makenzie Proctor’s RBI single to right.
“After we had seen her once or twice, we started knowing what pitches to pick out and what to hit,” Giedroc said of Peck. “It started going from there.”
“She was throwing outside a lot,” Smith said. “We made the adjustment of waiting on it longer and driving it.”
“I told them they were going to have to hit the ball where it was pitched,” BEA coach Curt Heverly said. “We started lining the ball through the gap in between first and second and got three or four RBI hits. (Peck) wasn’t overpowering, but it’s tough to hit the outside pitch.”
P-O, a PIAA semifinalist, didn’t go away quietly. Burge walked and Henry singled before Abby Showers ripped a double down the third base line to plate both runners. Dyke was able to escape further damage.
Leading by two, Heverly was still concerned heading into the seventh.
“You don’t want Philipsburg going into the bottom of the seventh down two runs,” Heverly said. “You just don’t. Four is not even good. I would have preferred eight, but seriously, they just hit the ball. They’re a tremendous team.”
So his club got two runs right back.
Morgan Nyman singled and Giedroc reached on a perfect bunt single to open the inning. After an out, Smith drilled an RBI single to right and Tobias capped the BEA scoring with an RBI single to center.
“They adjusted,” P-O coach Jim Gonder said of the Lady Eagles. “They moved up in the box and made some plate adjustments and scored some runs. When you’re down against a quality team and a quality pitcher, you press a little bit.”
Dyke gave up a double to Wagner in the seventh, but closed out the win by getting the dangerous Burge on a deep fly to center fielder Megan Peters. Dyke allowed seven hits, walked one and struck out four.
“The bottom line is it was Makennah Dyke, good defense and we hit the ball today,” Heverly said.
Dyke is the only pitcher to have held P-O under eight runs in a game in the postseason.
“She’s done a phenomenal job against us,” Gonder said. “I give her all of the credit.”
BEA players say Dyke and defense have kept the Lady Eagles’ PIAA title dreams alive.
“Good defense and no errors, that’s what we strive for,” said shortstop Giedroc, who made two fine plays in the contest. “When we succeed in that, everything else falls into place.”
“Our defense definitely keeps us in games,” second baseman Smith added. “We have such a strong defense that we have so many key plays that saves us games.”
Gonder certainly has been impressed.
“They made great plays,” he said. “I think in all of the games we’ve seen them I don’t think they’ve made a mistake. They’ve played us well.”
Eight different Lady Eagles had hits in the contest. Geidroc, Smith and Tobias had two each.
“That game just showed that everybody on our team can hit,” Fischer said.
“Hats off to Bald Eagle,” a gracious Gonder said in defeat. “They beat us three out of four this year, which is not an easy task to do. I have to give them all of the credit. They deserve to be in the final game and I wish them the best of luck.”
Burge had two hits to pace the Lady Mounties, who graduate catcher Frank, who has more than 100 career hits, and left fielder Wagner.
“The bottom line is they have the potential to be here in this game next year,” Gonder said of his club’s future. “They know that, but they’ll have to work hard because no one is going to give it to us.”
BEA is looking for one more win this year.
“I think we can play with anybody,” Heverly said. “We’re ready.”
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt.